Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh today announced he is joining a coalition with eight other attorneys general to challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) relaxed enforcement policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, EPA issued a highly controversial memo explaining that the Agency does not expect to seek penalties for polluters that do not comply with pollution tracking and reporting requirements during the COVID-19 crisis – granted the organization can link the noncompliance to the crisis. Several entities had previously complained that due to social distancing guidelines and COVID-19 related staffing challenges, some mandated requirements for testing, tracking and reporting were simply too difficult to comply with. Many environmental advocacy groups quickly signaled their opposition to the policy change.
In April, several state attorneys general including Frosh wrote to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler urging the Agency to reconsider its temporary enforcement policy. The coalition says EPA never responded to their requests and today decided to file suit in U.S. District Court to challenge the policy. In the lawsuit the coalition alleges that the EPA does not have the authority to suddenly waive enforcement, and that EPA neglected to consider the public health affects associated with a lack of pollution tracking and reporting.
The coalition argues that the policy is overly broad, lacks transparency, and will negatively affect both public health and the environment. They believe that without accurate and public information on pollution levels communities could be subject to higher levels without notice. Maryland and other states have previously signaled that they would continue regular enforcement but use discretion where needed. The coalition believes therefore EPA could have sought a more reasonable policy rather than hastily adopt a blanket policy of relaxed enforcement.
From the press release:
The coalition recognizes the immense challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic on regulated entities and the burden that responding to the crisis has placed on all levels of government. However, adopting an “across the board” non-enforcement policy without considering whether it will worsen harms to public health arbitrarily places regulatory relief above the pressing health concerns of affected communities.
“EPA is inviting industries to pollute our air and water. It is never a good time to back away from enforcing laws that protect the environment and public health. Doing so in the midst of this pandemic is particularly reckless,” said Attorney General Frosh.
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