On March 27, the Center for Progressive Reform joined environmental justice, public health, and community advocates in calling out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for suspending enforcement of our nation's crucial environmental laws. The agency made the move as part of the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, despite mounting evidence that increased air pollution worsens COVID-19, the disease the virus causes.
Not missing the opportunity to use the crisis as an excuse to press its assault on our safeguards, the EPA said last week that it would not "seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations" for an indefinite period of time. As the coalition of groups noted, the order is broad and "relieves polluting and hazardous industries from meeting environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak, with no end date in sight."
The enforcement suspension will almost certainly lead to increased pollution and with it, a host of very real health challenges, challenges that will disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color. These communities already bear an outsized burden of air and water pollution, lung and heart problems that are both associated with such pollution and increase the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms, and frequently lack access to health care services.
The move could also increase the risk of chemical disasters as safety and reporting lapses go unaddressed, with nearly 40 percent of Americans living within three miles of a high-risk chemical or industrial facility.
Rob Verchick, President of CPR's Board of Directors, said, "It's no surprise that this administration, though unable to muster an effective public health response to a pandemic, has no difficulty opening the sluice gates for polluters by announcing that it plans to simply look the other way when industry breaks the law. Filing paperwork late is one thing, but 'forgive and forget all' is no way to protect Americans from harmful pollution."
Other groups joining the call against EPA's free pass for polluters include the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, Clean Power Lake County, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Rubbertown Emergency ACTion (REACT), the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Just Transition Alliance, the Farmworker Association of Florida, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Women's Voices for the Earth, People Concerned About Chemical Safety, Urbalachian, Rose Hill Gardens Civic Association, New Castle Prevention Coalition, Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice, the Harambee House and Citizens for Environmental Justice, the Learning Disabilities Association of America, and Green America.
EPA was roundly criticized by many other environmental advocates and organizations, as well. A letter organized by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) slammed the agency for signaling to polluters that they'd get a free pass on compliance while at the same time pushing forward with an aggressive deregulatory agenda.