EPA Chief Says Virus-Linked Looser Enforcement Rules ‘Very Mild’ – Article from Bloomberg Law

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the agency’s response to relaxing enforcement due to the noval coronavirus pandemic has been “very mild” compared to the Obama administration’s similar approach to natural disasters.

In an interview on Thursday, Wheeler said the pandemic has put the Environmental Protection Agency in the unusual position of handling requests for guidance from all 50 states, as opposed to the small handful of states that it had to respond to in past crises.

In contrast, Wheeler pointed to the EPA under former President Barack Obama, when the agency issued 13 separate enforcement discretion actions and five fuel waivers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which he said mainly only affected four states in 2012.

“They went above and beyond what we did for those four states during the hurricane,” Wheeler said, speaking by telephone from his office, where he said he has been going every single day.

On March 26, the EPA offered temporary relief to facilities affected by the coronavirus pandemic, saying it won’t seek penalties for certain missed obligations.

The new guidance acknowledges that some entities can’t perform routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification activities.

The guidance, which took effect retroactively to March 13, has no end date.

‘FLUID’ SITUATION

Susan Bodine, the EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance, told Bloomberg Law that the policy was left open-ended because the “situation is very fluid.”

“We don’t know when this crisis will be over,” Bodine said. “What we are paying very close attention to is when state and local health departments let people go back to work because then we won’t need any enforcement discretion,” she said.

Bodine emphasized the agency will post notifications about relaxed enforcement waivers online for the public to view.

A group of 11 Democratic senators made that request of Wheeler on Wednesday.

Wheeler also said he doesn’t think bad actors have any greater opportunity to flout environmental rules under the temporary policy than they ordinarily do.

“We’re always going to have some bad actors, and we go after them,” he said. The EPA has been increasing the number of criminal enforcement cases it pursues, according to Wheeler.

BLAMES POLITICIZATION

He theorized that political motivations may be driving environmental groups to criticize the enforcement guidance.

“It’s sad that there are people out there trying to politicize a very routine enforcement discretion that we do on a regional basis whenever there’s an emergency such as a hurricane,” Wheeler said.

In a Thursday letter to Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Bodine wrote that the EPA is continuing to enforce its regulations. The letter was also sent to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.).

“The agency strongly disagrees with those who argue that a more appropriate response to this public health crisis would be to force facilities to either shut down or to put people at risk by keeping all their workers at the facility at the same time” to keep performing routine monitoring and reporting, Bodine wrote.

For all of today’s Bloomberg Law headlines, visit Environment & Energy Report

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USCSA Nationals Experience with COVID-19 and Climate Change (Caroline Crowell)

(L) Me at the bottom of the slalom course, (R) the cancellation announcement from the USCSA due to COVID-19.

A few weeks ago, I went up to Lake Placid to compete in USCSA nationals for alpine ski racing with the Columbia ski team. The competition was supposed to take place over 6 days, Monday through Saturday, with different disciplines competing and training on different days. The races took place at Whiteface Mountain, which is the biggest ski mountain in New York State. Usually they have one of the longest ski seasons on the East Coast. However, because of COVID-19 and climate change, Nationals did not run as intended. Because of extreme changes in temperature, the course for giant slalom was really icy, causing a lot of athletes to crash. Then because of unseasonably warm and rainy weather predicted for Friday, they had to put the men’s and women’s slalom back-to-back on the same day so that there would be enough snow coverage for both races. Then, because of COVID-19 and Governor Cuomo’s banning of events with over 500 attendees, All events on Friday and Saturday were cancelled, including different disciplines of events, awards ceremonies, and the closing banquet. Shortly after we left Whiteface, the mountain announced first that they would be closing their gondola, then that they would be shutting down for the season. Even without early closures due to COVID-19, Whiteface still likely wouldn’t have had as long a season as usual because of climate change— the snow coverage was inconsistent all around the mountain. 

(L) Me on the slalom course, (R) me on the giant slalom course.
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