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EPA's relaxed enforcement of pollution reporting due to COVID-19 ends in August

Michael Wilner, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

"The idea that we would shift our resources away from dealing with hazardous air pollution in communities, non-attainment areas, drinking water, and shift it to target a site solely for failure to submit a routine report -- that would not be an appropriate use of our resources," Bodine said.

Pallone and other Democratic lawmakers had criticized the EPA for not requiring companies to proactively notify the agency that they would not be fulfilling their reporting obligations due to the pandemic, putting the burden on the EPA to seek out noncompliant companies for explanations.

"We asked EPA to make changes to its COVID enforcement policy because we're concerned that, as written, it would leave environmental and public health protections unenforced at a time they're needed most," Pallone told McClatchy in a statement Monday. "I look forward to learning exactly how this Administration plans to make the modifications we requested and ensure our laws are fully enforced."

But the EPA letter, dated Monday, notes that the agency has opened 87 criminal enforcement cases, charged 27 defendants, initiated 275 civil enforcement actions and concluded 296 civil enforcement actions since March 16 -- evidence, Bodine said, that the agency's enforcement program continues to be robust.

"We know if they submitted a report or not, because we have our database," Bodine said. "If there was a failure to submit a report, then that will be very transparent to us, and they will have to demonstrate to us why we would not add that as another environmental violation when we target the site for inspection and look at their noncompliance across the board."

Bodine would not comment on whether the newly announced termination date for the temporary pandemic policy would affect ongoing litigation that called for an immediate halt to its implementation.

 

But she defended the policy as an effort to protect the health of Americans seeking to work remotely during the pandemic, and pushed back against the states' claim in federal court that the policy exceeds the agency's legal authorities.

"Every administration has exercised enforcement discretion," she said. "The allegation that somehow, through an enforcement policy, I can suspend the legal obligation to comply with environmental law -- that is just certainly not true. I don't have authority to do that."

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