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UPDATED: What They Are Saying: Public Officials and Stakeholders Voice Support for EPA's Discretion Policy for COVID-19 Pandemic

04/06/2020

WASHINGTON (April 6, 2020) — Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to all Members of Congress to correct the record on the agency's temporary enforcement policy. As 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. Here's what stakeholders and public officials are saying about EPA's temporary policy:

Senator John Barrasso (WY), Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee: “EPA has taken careful and well-reasoned steps to ensure our environmental laws are implemented during the pandemic in a way that makes sense and recognizes the limitations everyone is facing.The coronavirus outbreak is forcing Americans to change how we live our lives. Through its temporary policy, EPA has provided important direction to states and businesses about how the agency will enforce environmental laws during an unprecedented time of social distancing.”

Congressman James Comer (KY-01), Ranking Member of the Environment Subcommittee, House Oversight and Reform Committee: “I would like to applaud Administrator Wheeler and the Trump EPA for taking swift action by releasing a temporary enforcement compliance guidance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This temporary policy will ensure that all Americans are kept safe during this time. The policy will not allow exceedances of pollutant limitations in permits, regulations and statutes. Without this policy, routine monitoring and reporting requirements would have put many Kentuckians at risk. I am glad that the EPA is using a common-sense approach to protect all Americans during this crisis.”

Environmental Council of the States (ECOS): “ECOS members understand the need for enforcement discretion applied carefully and with common sense in disasters and emergencies and appreciates that the EPA memo allows states to take different, customized approaches using their own authorities.” 

Lance LeFleur, Director of Alabama Department of Environmental Management: “I reviewed the memo and found it to be a common-sense approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Limited human and other resources will clearly require temporary measures to focus available EPA, State and private sector resources on the most critical activities to protect human health and the environment.”

Jason Brune, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation: “Many Alaskan communities and businesses are incredibly remote and off the road system. Given our ongoing efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, EPA’s enforcement discretion policy is welcome news. The regulated community needs certainty that it will not fall prey to punitive ‘gotcha’ moments during this pandemic. Limiting inspections at this time is prudent as we do not want staff to be unintentional vectors for the virus to rural parts of our state that are ill-prepared to treat sick patients. Knowing the EPA will have states’ backs as we work with companies and communities to minimize the impact of the virus is both warranted and appreciated.”

Misael Cabrera, Director, Arizona Department of Environmental Equality: “EPA’s enforcement discretion memo will help Arizona focus inspections on the highest risk facilities at a time when everyone is stretched thin—we are very thankful for that.”

Dr. Chuck Carr Brown, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality: “COVID-19 is a unique and challenging global emergency. The guidance provided by EPA enhances our enforcement toolbox and allows us necessary flexibility as we strive to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment.”

Jim Macy, Director of Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy & President of ECOS: “I appreciate EPA engaging early with the states, collaborating on a common-sense set of policies that reflect our new reality. We expect our regulated partners to comply with environmental laws and report challenges to us in a timely manner.

EPA (at Region 7 and Head Quarters) has been responsive and acted in partnership with the states during this national emergency. Nebraska appreciates EPA leadership in working with our state to allow flexibility and not making a ‘one size fits all’ process.  We have had timely and effective communication in addressing our concerns and EPA has acted on opportunities we suggested.”

Brad Crowell, Director, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: “As part of its mission, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) remains committed to protecting public health and the environment while sustaining a vibrant economy. Given the unique and rapidly changing circumstances surrounding COVID-19, EPA’s March 26 policy recognizes Nevada’s capabilities to carry out critical and essential regulatory and enforcement operations based on the unique needs and resources of our state. As always, Nevada regulated entities subject to federal programs delegated to the State and those operating under State-only programs are expected to maintain full compliance with all applicable environmental requirements, including monitoring, sampling, testing, training, certifications and reporting. NDEP is also available to review reasonable accommodations for environmental compliance activities directly affected by COVID-19 with regulated entities.”

Ken E. Wagner, Oklahoma Secretary of Energy & Environment: “The national enforcement guidance provided by U.S. EPA Assistant Administrator, Susan Bodine is welcomed during this unprecedented and challenging time for the State of Oklahoma and our nation. The regulatory flexibility allowed follows Oklahoma’s ‘common-sense’ approach that we are implementing within our state’s Department of Agriculture, Oil & Gas Commission, and our environmental agencies.

We continue to emphasize to our regulated community that this guidance will provide much needed relief from some routine regulatory burdens, but does not excuse nor give license to cause environmental harm or allow for any mismanagement of accidental releases or spills. In short, this is about helping Oklahoma and the nation weather this crisis while protecting the environment and adhering to the CDC’s guidelines protecting our citizens and our critical workforce.”

Myra C. Reece, Director of Environmental Affairs, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control: “DHEC appreciates EPA’s effort to provide some assurance to the regulated community during this unprecedented and uncertain time. EPA’s clarity regarding unavoidable and inevitable compliance issues is consistent with its application in other large-scale events, such as hurricanes, and is what DHEC believes is the right thing to do. DHEC will provide guidance and decisions that are consistent with EPA’s, while offering further relief from state obligations whenever possible, remaining protective of human health and the environment. DHEC’s goal is to offer flexibility that is sufficient to support continued economic viability while maintaining our commitment to environmental and public health protection.”

Hunter Roberts, Secretary, South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources: “We appreciate EPA issuing a temporary enforcement discretion policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. One size fits all regulation during this unprecedented time does not make sense. Targeted regulatory flexibility will help minimize risk for the systems and industries we regulate, while allowing us to continue our mission of protecting public health and the environment.”   

David Salyers, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation: “Tennessee has appreciated the open and ongoing dialogue with EPA as we navigate the coronavirus pandemic. EPA’s guidance on enforcement discretion has been particularly beneficial as we continue to work with staff and stakeholders to ensure the health and well-being of Tennessee citizens while being protective of our environment during this unprecedented time.” 

Austin Caperton, Cabinet Secretary, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection: “We are very fortunate as a state to be very technologically advanced in our permitting and enforcement programs. From the beginning of this crisis our mission has been continuing operations as usual. Quite simply the EPA's enforcement discretion policy has put common sense into the COVID crisis. We now have the leeway to work with permittees on a case by case basis if the COVID situation causes compliance issues.”

Zippy Duvall, President, American Farm Bureau Federation: “Farmers and ranchers care about the environment and appreciate the importance of complying with government regulations, but we all know COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented situation that could disrupt and add significant stress to critical food suppliers and supply chains. We appreciate the EPA’s leadership in providing a common-sense policy that safeguards essential environmental protections while making certain American farms and food suppliers can continue ensuring dinner is served across America.”

Adam Krantz, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Clean Water Agencies: “Public clean water agencies and their employees are first responders on the front lines of public health protection during this pandemic, and we are appreciative for the actions EPA is taking to support our sector during this challenging time… I also want to thank and commend the Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) for the temporary policy it published on March 26 regarding the compliance with environmental legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary policy appropriately reiterates that all regulated entities must make every effort to maintain compliance with all requirements, but also allows EPA to exercise enforcement discretion when compliance challenges may arise directly related to COVID-19 and are appropriately documented. NACWA members are committed to maintaining the highest level of compliance during this public health crisis but greatly appreciate EPA’s understanding of the challenges public clean water agencies are currently facing and willingness to address these issues on a flexible, case-by-case basis.”

Chuck Conner, President & CEO, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives: “America’s farmers and their co-ops stand ready to produce the food their fellow Americans need to sustain them through this unprecedented time in our country’s history. To do that though, farmers and processing facilities need to maintain the health and well-being of their employees and have been restricting access to their farms to enforce physical distancing recommendations. Non-emergency compliance visits by EPA staff represents a real risk to the health of employees and should be treated as any other non-essential visit to the farm or facility.” 

U.S. Poultry & Egg Association President John Starkey: “On behalf of our member companies who are working diligently to keep the flow of safe food to the American public during these trying times, we appreciate EPA understanding the pressure this pandemic has placed on our industry. Our member companies’ commitment to adhere to environmental laws remains fully intact, and they in no way see EPA’s temporary enforcement discretion policy as a mechanism to relax that commitment.”

Scott Yager, Chief Environmental Counsel, National Cattlemen's Beef Association: “The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association greatly appreciates EPA’s recent issuance of its enforcement discretion policy. This guidance provides America’s cattle farmers and ranchers certainty that they will not be subject to overzealous enforcement actions as a result of unavoidable issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, our nation needs a secure food supply. EPA’s action assists farmers and ranchers to continue delivering safe and nutritious beef to dinner tables across the country.”

Michael Formica, Assistant Vice President, Domestic Affairs & Counsel, National Pork Producers Council: “The nation's pork producers are thrilled that EPA recognized the importance of this issue and acted in a rapid fashion to save farmers and their livelihoods in the face of the uncertainty posed by COVID- 19.”