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Restore pollution reporting during COVID-19 crisis
IPEN joins more than 150 affected communities, environmental justice organizations, and other groups in calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to rescind or replace its policy allowing companies to stop reporting how much they pollute under the guise of COVID-19.
In mid-March, the US EPA implemented a policy that allows companies to stop critical health and safety monitoring—without notifying the public or the EPA during the COVID-19 crisis. The policy is extremely broad, allowing any industry, including chemical manufacturing, oil refineries, coal-fired power plants, and most other sources of pollution. The policy allows the EPA to waive enforcement even if the suspension of monitoring causes an “imminent threat” to health or the environment. With EPA inspections already at a decade-long low, the timing couldn't be worse.
“EPA’s decision to suspend enforcement is unconscionable. The agency is abrogating its responsibility to protect our communities and public health. The suspension of enforcement puts us at even greater risk in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. We demand that EPA rescind this policy and reinstate proper oversight, inspections, and enforcement necessary to protect our health,” said Pamela Miller, IPEN Co-Chair and Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics.
Recent research has shown higher exposure to pollution increases the risk of dying of the coronavirus. Communities of color and those living in poverty are more likely to live near polluting factories, and lack access to healthy foods, both of which harm their health and weaken their immune systems. This reckless non-enforcement policy puts these groups at even greater risk of illness and even death from COVID-19 by exacerbating their already higher exposure to pollution and related respiratory hazards.
"People of color, low-income people, and Indigenous peoples have been made especially vulnerable through decades of environmental racism: policies that intentionally concentrate pollution and toxic hazards in our communities. This administration has doubled down on that history, rolling back critical health protections," said Michele Roberts, Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform. "We are already dying from COVID-19 in far greater numbers than others, and this policy will expose us to even more harm. Any elected officials, or candidates, who claim to care about our communities need to stand up now, be heard, and help stop this attack on our health."
In a letter provided to EPA leadership and key members of Congress today, more than 150 fenceline, medical, faith-based, environmental justice, and other organizations publicly called on EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to rescind the policy or amend it to require companies to provide documentation of need. They also called for public disclosure when monitoring or reporting are suspended, and called on key Congressional committees to step in and provide aggressive oversight to ensure that the policy is not abused.
The letter follows a formal petition to the EPA requesting immediate action to amend the policy, and a lawsuit filed earlier this month against the agency by a number of the same organizations. The suit argues people need accurate and timely information about the air they breathe and the water they drink in order to protect themselves from pollution. If they can’t obtain such information, they won’t be able to protect themselves -- or take action against polluters.
“Now more than ever, we need EPA to do its job and protect our health—not put it at greater risk,” said Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “During a pandemic that is hitting people with heart and lung disease the hardest, it is senseless to push forward a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy for polluters that will allow them to make our air and water dirtier without warning or repercussion. This policy benefits polluters and polluters alone—and all at our expense.”
“This broad suspension of enforcement activities, just as industry requested, is one more example of this EPA putting corporate interests before public health and the environment. Since the agency's out-the-gate decision to block a planned ban of the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos back in March 2017, it's been crystal clear who EPA is working for under this administration. This decision is shameful and must be reversed,” said Kristin Schafer, Executive Director, Pesticide Action Network, North America.
The letter to EPA and Congress recommends that:
- EPA rescind the policy outright, or replace it with a more specific, time-limited, and narrowly targeted policy, one that provides for waivers on a case-by-case basis when supported by evidence, which are then disclosed to affected workers and communities;
- If EPA does not rescind the policy or replace it with a much more targeted and time-limited policy, the agency must act on the petition for emergency rulemaking submitted on April 1, 2020, and promptly adopt a rule to ensure that companies immediately inform EPA if they suspend any monitoring or reporting under the policy, and that EPA disclose any such suspensions to the public in a timely manner;
- If EPA does not rescind the policy, Congress should exercise strong oversight of its implementation and hold EPA accountable to protecting public health and safety through compliance with the specific recommendations above; and
- EPA, or Congress if EPA fails to promptly do so, should provide clear and confidential means for facility workers and affected community members to anonymously report concerns about suspension of activities that may endanger health, safety, and the environment, and act immediately on those reports.