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EPA Submits Letter To Congress: “Correct The Record On The Temporary Enforcement Policy”
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By Lynn L. Bergeson

EPA announced on April 2, 2020, that it sent a letter to all members of Congress to correct the record on its temporary policy regarding enforcement of environmental legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic. EPA states that “[a]s should be apparent to anyone who reads the policy, allegations that EPA ‘will cease all enforcement actions during the coronavirus pandemic’ and that the temporary policy ‘absolves polluters of all responsibility’ are simply not true.” According to EPA, it expects regulated entities to comply with all obligations, and if they do not, EPA emphasizes that the policy states EPA will consider the pandemic, on a case-by-case basis, when determining an appropriate response. Furthermore, in cases that may involve acute risks, or imminent threats, or failure of pollution control or other equipment that may result in exceedances, “EPA’s willingness to provide even that consideration is conditioned on the facility contacting the appropriate EPA region, or authorized state or tribe, to allow regulators to work with that facility to mitigate or eliminate such risks or threats.”

EPA states that it is “not unusual for EPA to exercise enforcement discretion to address emergency situations that disrupt normal operations, such as hurricanes. What is unusual is that the current crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic affects the entire nation,” rather than a discrete geographic area. According to EPA, it developed the temporary policy to allow it to prioritize its resources to respond to acute risks and imminent threats, rather than making case-by-case determinations regarding routine monitoring and reporting. EPA notes that the development of the policy was a group effort, involving “multiple calls” and with “drafts shared among EPA staff and managers, both career and political, at both headquarters and in the regions.” Once the COVID-19 threat has ended, “EPA expects regulated facilities to comply with regulatory requirements, where reasonably practicable, and to return to compliance as quickly as possible.” Additionally, according to EPA, “the policy makes clear that EPA expects operators of public water systems to continue normal operations and maintenance during this time, as well as required sampling, to ensure the safety of vital drinking water supplies.”

More information on EPA’s temporary policy is available in our March 27, 2020, blog item, “EPA Announces Temporary Enforcement Discretion Policy.”