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As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to weigh on the global economy, the Trump administration has quietly relaxed regulatory measures meant to protect the environment from unnecessary air and water pollution.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental regulations in order to combat the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on businesses. The order enables power plants, manufacturing facilities, and various other facilities to determine whether or not they are meeting the legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.
The struggling oil and gas sector was taking the lead in pushing for the relaxation of regulations during the on-going COVID-19 crisis and an escalating price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Issued by the E.P.A.’s top compliance official, Susan P. Bodine, the policy establishes new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined amount of time throughout the coronavirus outbreak. It also claims that the agency will not dole out penalties for violations of any specific pollution reporting requirements.
The statement from the E.P.A. reads, “In general, the E.P.A. does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the E.P.A. agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the E.P.A. upon request."
The order urges companies to "act responsibly" if they can not currently follow guidelines.
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Former Obama-era EPA chief Gina McCarthy, spoke out against the order, suggesting that it was giving companies 'an open license to pollute," adding that the order is telling "companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way 'caused' by the virus pandemic. And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was."
While McCarthy was very critical of the order, Granta Nakayama, a partner at the law firm King & Spalding who served in the E.P.A.’s office of compliance under President George W. Bush, believes the order is necessary, stating "It’s a very straightforward and sensible, in my view, guidance."
By Michael Kern for Oilprice.com
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Michael Kern is a newswriter and editor at Safehaven.com and Oilprice.com,