SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today sent a letter to Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Susan Bodine expressing serious concern over a new policy allowing the EPA to curtail civil enforcement of numerous environmental regulations and statutes during the coronavirus pandemic. In the letter, Attorney General Becerra criticizes the policy as overly broad and lacking transparency. He highlights that by establishing a presumption of non-enforcement during the crisis, the EPA further endangers public health and increases the likelihood that our most vulnerable Americans suffer the most serious consequences from the virus.
“While state and local governments focus on protecting the health and economic well-being of their people in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump Administration is using this crisis as an excuse to cater to special interests,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The EPA’s non-compliance policy leaves vulnerable communities in the dark when industrial polluters do not comply with existing environmental obligations, including monitoring and reporting. We urge the EPA to reconsider this regressive policy which would pit our communities against the dual health threats of environmental pollution and the coronavirus.”
Assistant Administrator Bodine signed a memo on March 26, 2020 announcing a temporary policy by which the EPA would exercise its enforcement discretion to assess violations of environmental statutes and regulations during the coronavirus pandemic. The policy was met with immediate and widespread criticism from members of Congress, enforcement watchdogs, community leaders and environmental organizations. In the letter, Attorney General Becerra echoes their concerns and calls for more transparency, the continued monitoring and reporting of emissions, and the retention of discharge or disposal limitations. He also expresses his support for the Petition for Emergency Rulemaking submitted by several organizations on April 1, 2020, which would require the EPA to inform the public when violations occur and when the EPA chooses not to seek penalties.
Attorney General Becerra further highlights the danger of reducing or ceasing environmental enforcement while a pandemic is attacking people’s respiratory systems. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 presents a significantly higher risk to people with previous medical conditions such as asthma - conditions that are significantly exacerbated by increased industrial pollution. While some flexibility may be necessary to accommodate the economic realities of the current crisis, the EPA cannot ignore that already vulnerable communities will face increased health risks as a result of industrial pollution. At a minimum, the EPA must continue informing the public when regulated industrial facilities violate their monitoring and reporting obligations or violate their emissions and discharge limits, so that communities throughout the country understand the risks posed by the release of potentially hazardous air, water and other emissions.
A copy of the letter can be found here.