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EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws Thursday, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak.  

The temporary policy, for which the EPA has set no end date, would allow any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency saying it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”

While alleviating certain rules may have been necessary in an emergency, this looks like a blanket waiver which can lead to rather unfortunate issues down the road. The EPA contests that it is a blanket waiver and reserves the right to interfere to save human lives. Though it says nothing about e.g. about ongoing issues that can cost human lives in the future (which, I think, is often the bigger issue than acute dangers).

https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/489753-epa-suspends-enforcement-of-environmental-laws-amid-coronavirus

 

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If I'm not wrong, this only applies to the reporting and monitoring obligations, correct?

 

I.E, A company doesn't have to hire an independent assessment contractor to evaluate their processes every 90 some days, and report to the EPA that everything is good, due to a lot of these companies temporarily suspending operations.

Which makes it hard to abide by said rules.

 

Additionally, when things return to normal, they need to prove that the virus caused aforementioned environmental breaches if there are any. Which seems like it'd be hard to do.

Edited by Raider5678

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The issue is that it seems rather sweeping with little details. It is, in theory fairly easy to be non-compliant and blame it on the outbreak. E.g. the folks responsible for sampling could not go out (or were let go) due to coronavirus related worker shortages. Therefore spills were not detected until it was too late (or perhaps will not be detected, if one cannot determine it retroactively). It is not clear whether that would be enough or not, per the directives. Specifically the EPA does say that it does not expect catch-up monitoring for certain cases, which could complicate matters. So there is a potential time frame where stuff (especially non acute) things could happening, but essentially stay invisible.

There is no indication that it only applies to operations that are actually being suspended during the outbreak (because if they were, they probably would not need a waiver in the first place, depending on the type of operations). In other cases waivers could be provided based but what is currently implemented is (or looks) like a wide-ranging suspension. Previous EPA officials have been quite critical of that move though current spokespersons have defended it, of course (but then it should be noted that the EPA has been stripped of many scientists and experts so who knows on what they base their policies on nowadays).

 

 

 

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I think we can expect a lot of normal activities to get suspended but I have no doubt that ideological agendas will get pushed through under the guise and cover of this emergency. With governments often inclined towards authoritarianism - getting stuff done so much easier without those annoying checks and balances - the potential for those tendencies to come to the fore looks obvious; it can be an opportunity for dissent and opposition and alternative views, legitimate or not, to be eliminated.

As someone deeply concerned about global warming I fear that people who don't understand or accept the seriousness of climate change - most conservative-right leaning governments - will see pressing forward with a low emissions transition as frivolous and wasteful whereas keeping coal and gas and oil mining viable will be seen as essential, (as they currently are, for all they do need to be non-destructively phased out) - this despite use of low emissions energy already at "essential" levels in many places and new build costs being competitive or having shorter build times making their potential for future energy security look more important not less. And perhaps because they present a growing commercial threat to fossil fuels, we will see support withdrawn or diverted back to prop up fossil fuels.

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