In response to COVID-19, EPA announces sweeping relaxation of environmental rules

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Last Thursday, the EPA announced a drastic relaxation of environmental rules, granting factories and power plants, among others, the authority to decide for themselves if they can meet legally required reporting of their air and water pollution.

The decision to relax the regulations was made after a number of businesses requested a pass on environmental reporting as they face layoffs and personnel issues because of the coronavirus pandemic. The New York Times reports that the waiver is valid for an “undetermined period of time during the outbreak,” during which, “the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.”

Many environmentalists were stunned by the announcement. 

Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the New York Times it is “an open license to pollute.” “This brazen directive is nothing short of an abject abdication of the E.P.A. mission to protect our well being,” she said. 

Cynthia Giles, who worked for the E.P.A. during the Obama administration, told the Times the move “is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. It is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.” 

The E.P.A., however, defended their decision. “It is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules,” Andrea Woods, a spokesperson for the E.P.A. told the Times. “For situations outside of routine monitoring and reporting, the agency has reserved its authorities and will take the pandemic into account on a case-by-case basis.”

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