Environmental Advocacy Groups Sue EPA Over Relaxed Enforcement Policy

A coalition of environmental advocacy groups is suing EPA over the Agency’s recent policy decision they believe poses significant public health risks.

On Thursday, The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other partners filed suit against the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its recent decision to relax pollution monitoring and reporting requirements during the COVID-19 crisis. On March 26, EPA issued a memorandum outlining a new temporary policy stating that they did not intend to seek penalties for noncompliance with routine activities. EPA’s policy states that they will use discretion when evaluating noncompliance as long as entities can provide documentation upon request linking it to the COVID-19 crisis. There is no requirement that anyone announce noncompliance, and the policy has no explicit expiration date.

Environmental advocacy groups were quick to express their displeasure with the policy, with NRDC President Gina McCarthy declaring it an “open license to pollute.” On April 1 the coalition submitted a petition for emergency rulemaking which they say has gone unanswered. The coalition would like EPA to issue an official rule requiring entities that stop complying with existing regulations to provide written notice and justification to EPA that would then be made public.

From the lawsuit:

The requested rule would provide vulnerable communities nationwide with essential information about pollution risks. It would also ensure that first responders and state and local officials have timely access to information about the risks from chemical leaks and spills, drinking water threats, and other pollution hazards masked or worsened by EPA’s policy.

Thursday the group filed suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan accusing the administration of using the pandemic as an excuse to allow polluters to avoid requirements that protect both the public and the workers who deal with the chemicals on a daily basis. When the Agency announced the policy they described it as a way to provide relief to entities that were struggling with staffing challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and associated social distancing guidelines.

The coalition contains 14 groups including the National Resource Defense CouncilComing CleanCatskill MountainkeeperTexas Environmental Justice Advocacy ServicesClean Water ActionCenter for Coalfield JusticeFlint RisingIndigenous Environmental NetworkLos Jardines InstituteSoutheast Environmental Task ForceWater You Fighting For, and West Harlem Environmental Action Inc.

Useful Links:

EPA Memo

NRDC Press Release

Prior Conduit Street Coverage: 

EPA Relaxing Enforcement of Environmental Regulations

MDE Will Continue Environmental Protection Enforcement During COVID-19 Crisis

Frosh Signs on to Letter Requesting End to EPA Policy