The environmental agency said companies have complained of staff shortages.
The Environmental Protection Agency will task specific businesses and facilities with monitoring their own compliance with environmental laws during the novel coronavirus emergency, officials say.
The move has led critics to accuse the agency of abdicating its role in preventing runaway pollution or other violations.
The EPA argued that the change was necessary because of staffing shortages, which facilities, like power plants, said made it more difficult to meet deadlines and accountability requirements.
The agency will still enforce criminal offenses and follow standard enforcement procedures for certain programs such as managing Superfund sites, in accordance with guidelines for how the EPA will use its enforcement discretion.
“We’ve heard from a number of facilities across the country where they simply don’t have the necessary staff at their facilities to do these reports in a timely manner,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. to reporters on Thursday afternoon.
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Environmental groups have accused the agency of giving polluters a free pass because of the pandemic, saying that without federal oversight, companies could skimp on recording information about air pollution releases or pollution. ‘water.
“This EPA statement is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future,” Cynthia Giles, former EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, said in a statement. “It tells businesses across the country that they will not face law enforcement even if they emit illegal air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, as long as they claim that these failures are somehow “caused” by the virus pandemic.”
She added: ‘And it also allows them to monitor, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was.’
But Susan Bodine, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, said facilities will still face law enforcement and possible penalties for violating the environment during the emergency. She noted that the policy will place the onus on facilities to notify the EPA and state agencies of any violations.
“If you have violations of your license, you’re still obligated to stay within your license limits, you’re supposed to do whatever you can,” Bodine said. there is no promise of no penalties in these kinds of situations.”
“If you have an acute risk, if you have an imminent threat … the establishment needs to come in and talk to their regulator, their authorized state or enter the agency,” she continued. “And the reason for that is that we want to, we want to put all of our resources into keeping those facilities safe and keeping the communities safe.”
Bodine said that if the entities are in trouble, “they need to come in and talk to us.”
What you need to know about the coronavirus:
In response to the outbreak, the EPA has stepped up work to approve disinfectant products that can kill the virus and worked to prevent unapproved products from being introduced into the country.
Wheeler said the EPA is also working with manufacturers to maintain the ingredient supply chain to meet demand for disinfectants.