The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States has already exceeded 100,000, making it the country with the highest number of infections, although not of deaths. This crisis triggered a series of environmental and economic measures by the Trump administration.
Among them, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided to implement a sweeping relaxation of environmental laws and fines. The move is a response to requests by oil factories and refineries, EPA said, which are dealing with the economic impact of the pandemic.
EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Parker Bodine sent a letter to government and private sector partners informing that the agency is not planning to enforce environmental standards on power plants and factories, who won’t be penalized for breaking the rules.
All companies in the US normally have to file a report when they release a certain level of pollution to the air or water. But that’s no longer needed while the coronavirus outbreak continues. Instead, companies will be monitoring their own air and water pollution levels.
"EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements," said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a press release.
Any company that is polluting the environment will be able to avoid penalties by claiming that the violations were related to the pandemic. While giving them the green light to pollute, the EPA asked companies to “act responsibly” and “minimize the effects and duration” of their violations.
The new guidelines, which extend indefinitely, were harshly questioned by environmental organizations, which warned they could lead to further environmental damage. Air pollution more emissions released to the atmosphere, leading to a warmer world and more people exposed to respiratory diseases.
"This is an open license to pollute. Plain and simple," Gina McCarthy, CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a press release. "The administration should be giving its all toward making our country healthier right now. Instead, it is taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to do favors for polluters.”
On the same line, Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement that the “misguided” decision by EPA is putting at risk the country’s “drinking water, wildlife and way of life,” recalling the efforts of communities to clean up polluted waters.
"As the country focuses on protecting public health and safety from COVID-19, Donald Trump and Andrew Wheeler are exploiting this pandemic to make toxic pollution legal," said Michael Brune, Executive Director of environmental organization the Sierra Club, in a statement. "This illegal and reckless action will not go unchecked."