EPA May Waive Some Pollution Penalties Due To Coronavirus

Mar 30, 2020

Credit Aristocrats-Hat/Flickr

Industrial companies and others likely won’t be penalized for failing to comply with certain pollution control laws due to the coronavirus outbreak. That’s according to an Environmental Protection Agency announcement last week. 

Companies that fail to do routine things like monitor their pollution could be given a pass — as long as they keep a record of what happened and why they couldn’t comply with the law because of the outbreak.

Eric Schaeffer used to work in EPA enforcement and now leads the group the Environmental Integrity Project. If companies aren’t monitoring, he says, how will they know if they release too much pollution?

“You would never know. These pollutants are invisible. They don’t knock on your door and say hello,” he says.

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As COVID-19 mostly affects the lungs, Schaeffer says the last thing patients need is more pollution hindering their ability to breathe.

He says some facilities may be closed and will have no pollutants to report, but he fears many will use this as an excuse to break the rules while they’re still operating.

“It looks like Santa’s workshop, you know, it's a busy place — but too bad the coronavirus has taken your compliance team out of play, so you're not going to be able to comply,” Schaeffer says.

Schaeffer says a lot of the monitoring process is automated and should only require a couple of workers.

The EPA did not respond in time for comment.

Contact Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

This is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. However, we recommend checking the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Indiana State Department of Health for the most recent numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.