|RICHMOND (April 15, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a coalition of 14 attorneys general in calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to denounce the March 26 memorandum that announced a nationwide policy significantly reducing the civil enforcement of federal environmental laws during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Just because our country is in the middle of a national health crisis does not mean that EPA can shirk their responsibilities and stop enforcing critical environmental laws and regulations,” said Attorney General Herring. “Many of these laws and regulations are directly tied to cleaner air, cutting down on the kinds of respiratory conditions that could increase the risk for serious complications with COVID-19. While our country continues to battle with a virus that is known to have a disproportionately negative affect on individuals with respiratory conditions, we must put more effort into enforcing these laws and keeping pollution out of our air not less.”
While it is important that EPA considers impacts of COVID-19 safeguards with respect to industry’s ability to comply with certain environmental laws, we cannot allow them to cease enforcement altogether.”
Additionally, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues issued the following statement along with the letter: “As the chief law enforcement officers of our states, we are greatly concerned by the EPA’s announcement of a nationwide policy significantly curtailing enforcement of our nation’s bedrock environmental and public health laws. Although it is appropriate for EPA to consider whether safeguards against the coronavirus impact the ability of industry to comply, the agency cannot—in the midst of a public health crisis—lose sight of its mission to protect public health and the environment. Because the policy turns a blind eye to the impacts on our communities of more pollution and lesser accountability, we strongly urge EPA to rescind it. We will continue to enforce our state environmental laws in a reasonable manner, and stand ready to hold regulated entities accountable under critical federal environmental laws if EPA will not.”
On March 26, EPA issued a policy entitled “COVID-19 Implications for EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program.” The policy, which applies retroactively to March 13, has no end date. EPA states in the policy that it does not intend to take enforcement action against companies that, for example, violate existing reporting and monitoring requirements, provided that the companies draw a nexus between COVID-19 and their noncompliance. Absent any requirement to provide EPA, states, tribes, or the public with notice of such noncompliance, fence line communities—often low income and minority communities—could be exposed to harmful pollution without adequate warning. This is made more troubling by EPA’s statement in the policy that it may forego enforcement even in situations where a polluter’s noncompliance presents an imminent threat to public health or the environment. The policy also ignores the connection between air pollution and cardiovascular and respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma), which may increase risk of serious harms—including premature death—for individuals who contract the COVID-19 virus. EPA can provide guidance to companies without putting the health of our communities at even greater risk than they are already facing.
Following Governor Northam’s state of emergency declaration, Attorney General Herring has taken many actions to help Virginians navigate the uncertainty surrounding the COVID19 pandemic. Attorney General Herring has:
Additionally, Attorney General Herring has urged the Trump Administration to take many different actions to protect Virginians and Americans during this time including:
Joining Attorney General Herring in today’s letter are the attorneys general of Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.