Bypassing Environmental Regulations due to COVID- 19
Thousands of government facilities, gas operations, and other sites in the U.S. have been permitted to bypass environmental rules and have stopped monitoring hazardous emissions.
The US government paved the way for the reduced monitoring on March 26 after being pressured by the oil and gas industry, which said lockdowns and social distancing during the pandemic made it difficult to comply with pollution rules.
The consequences are startling: Manure piling up and the mass disposal of livestock carcasses at farms in Iowa and Minnesota, approval for less environmental monitoring at some Texas refineries and at an army depot dismantling warheads armed with nerve gas in Kentucky are examples of increased risks to communities because of these rulings.
States are responsible for much of the oversight of federal environmental laws, and many followed with their own policies. A two-month review by AP found that waivers were granted in more than 3,000 cases, representing the overwhelming majority of requests citing the outbreak.
Almost every state reported fielding requests from industries and local governments to cut back on compliance, often for routine paperwork but also for monitoring, repairs, and other measures to control hazardous waste, toxic compounds, heavy metals, and potentially disease-bearing contaminants.
Critics say that the policy will not only result in more pollution but also make it impossible to fully assess the environmental damage both for the short and long term.
Cynthia Giles retired headed the EPA’s Office of Enforcement, said the new policy “tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way ‘caused’ by the virus pandemic. And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was.”