The EPA Plans to Waive Rules Due to Coronavirus – Putting Polluters Ahead of People

As a result of the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Trump Administration plans to waive or loosen health, safety and environmental regulations governing a variety of industries including oil refiners, water utilities and sewage plants.  Dozens of industries are petitioning the White House for relief similar to that provided last week to the trucking industry, for whom they waived rules regarding sleep requirements for truck drivers in order to hasten the delivery of food and other supplies to areas hit by the virus.

Why This Matters: To borrow a phrase from the President, his planned economic “cure” for the virus may be worse than the disease.  He believes that shutting down businesses to stem the spread of the virus is a “health” risk. But, in fact, peremptorily waiving health and safety rules could lead directly to people being made ill or injured or worse by increased pollution and lower safety requirements.  So just as Democrats are working to ensure that our economy is made more environmentally sustainable as it recovers, the White House is quickly using this opportunity to essentially eviscerate even more environmental regulations without any notice and comment to the public.  

Oh, What A Relief 

Here is a laundry list of the rollbacks being considered before any real need for leniency is demonstrated:

  • Oil and gas manufacturers want to waive or postpone annual requirements for cleaner gasoline to be sold in the summer due to increased pollution during hot weather because winter-grade fuels will not have sold out before the April 1 changeover in the system
  • Oil and gas manufacturers also want relief or delay from requirements for lab testing, wastewater monitoring, and cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater.
  • Many industries are seeking to delay Superfund site cleanups that they are obligated to keep moving — these are sites that are highly contaminated by lead, asbestos, radiation and other pollutants that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other health and environmental harm
  • states overseeing sewage treatment plants and industrial facilities that discharge wastewater are requesting leniency from water sampling, monitoring water intakes and other tasks required by clean-water rules.
  • The solid waste and recycling industry is requesting waivers from monitoring landfill gas emissions, surface emissions, groundwater monitoring, and leachate monitoring, which they argue could be delayed or otherwise impacted by the availability of technicians

It is true that some of these health and safety requirements may become more difficult if workers become ill with coronavirus or if personal protective equipment (PPE) is hard to get due to increased demand for it.  Labs may also be unable to process industrial samples if they are shifted to other higher priority tasks.  But these waivers could be handled on a by-request basis, or through prosecutorial discretion rather than blanket waivers of regulations.  At the very least, any issues could be addressed when they arise rather than in advance without any consideration of those nearby residents whose drinking water or air quality may be put at much greater risk as a result.

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