To Fight Covid-19, Trump's EPA Will Bravely Allow Companies to Pollute with Impunity

Illustration for article titled To Fight Covid-19, Trumps EPA Will Bravely Allow Companies to Pollute with Impunity
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As covid-19 continues to ravage all corners of the world, the Trump administration has a plan to protect the real victims: polluting companies.

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On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a sweeping suspension on its enforcement of environmental laws, telling companies they can decide for themselves if they’re capable of meeting legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution. How prudent!

The agency insists the rollback is temporary, but has given no indication of its duration. Presumably it won’t last for more than a few weeks, because that’s when Trump thinks it’s safe for workers to return to their jobs...right? Right?

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“The consequences of the pandemic may affect facility operations and the availability of key staff and contractors and the ability of laboratories to timely analyze samples and provide results,” the agency wrote in a memo detailing the changes. “As a result, there may be constraints on the ability of a facility or laboratory to carry out certain activities required by our federal environmental permits, regulations, and statutes.”

The EPA said it will still act if there are “situations that may create an acute risk or imminent threat to public health or the environment.” We should certainly trust the Trump administration to determine which polluters are posing real threats. It’s not like the EPA is headed by a former coal lobbyist that has forsaken its mission to protect public health.

Toxic emissions—like the ones polluters can now let their facilities emit with reckless abandon–create harmful air pollution and warm the climate. That can lead to major respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, and cancer for people living near those facilities, who are, by the way, disproportionately poor and of color. Those health issues in turn make those communities particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. Plus, you know, if we ever see the end of this pandemic, the existential threat of climate change will still be there waiting for us on the other side.

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But it’s okay, because we all know, the most important thing to do in a pandemic is protecting polluting corporations. Trickle down economics, right? You’d think the multi-trillion dollar handout they could receive from the just-passed stimulus package would be enough for one week.

This must come as such a pleasant surprise to representatives of the fossil fuel industry, who insist they haven’t requested any “policy relief” during this pandemic. I mean, I could have sworn they were actually rather aggressively lobbying for exactly this kind of free pass to pollute. But anyways, I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong. We should definitely take them at their word they’ll be good stewards and won’t try to take advantage of the chaos unfolding across the U.S. all to shave a few bucks off their bottom line.

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This isn’t the only move to roll back environmental regulations and use the current pandemic as an excuse—sorry, I mean, entirely justifiable reason—and it almost definitely won’t be the last. The administration reportedly plans to finalize its auto efficiency rollback soon. The plastics industry is misrepresenting science in an attempt to save us from cruel and unusual plastic bag bans. And it’s not limited to the U.S.! In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro’s far right administration is similarly planning to pause pollution oversight in a time of pandemic.

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If you squint, it almost looks like these corporations and government officials are exploiting the crisis to push through their deregulatory agenda, even though doing so is practically genocidal.

But no, surely the Trump administration and corporations have our best interests at heart. They wouldn’t do anything to put us in harm’s way or personally profit from suffering. So that can’t be what’s happening here. Can it?

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Staff writer, Earther

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DISCUSSION

Here’s a couple things. And I can only speak as someone that does environmental compliance for a natural gas fired power plant.

At least in my sector, this memo does not, as it has been relayed to me, allow for plants to exceed their permit limits for emissions. What it does is relax requirements that are on timers that rely heavily on personnel that may be unavailable.

This greatly affects getting sampling contractors to take required samples at the site and the it could affect the labs that analyze them.

It affects stack testing, which is a simple annual requirement that verifies emission monitoring equipment (something that also verified daily and quarterly) - the personnel that do these are often in tight quarters on site for days and stay in hotels throughout the tests.

It affects certain requirements that have annual training requirements - meaning if I was going to be recertified to witness opacity, manage hazardous waste, take water samples, etc. and the training had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. Sites should still be doing these samplings, but only with lapsed certs.

It also affects reporting. All my site’s EPA mandated reports will be in on time. But if I get COVID-19, they certainly won’t be.

Mandating any of the above to still be done timely when it simply isn’t possible due to a manpower shortage is unreasonable and would most definitely crash our electrical grids because sites would intentionally shut down before getting violations.

Most emission limits are controlled by the local air districts and I have not heard anything about those being forgiven... I’ve actually been told many times directly that compliance is mandated. My site cannot pollute more than it’s allowed by the permit and it cannot run more than it’s allowed by the permit.

Are some sites with sketchy, criminal management try to skirt their limits for this? Yes. And those people are assholes.

Now, if this goes on for a long time and we start running out of emission reduction products, such as ammonia, I’m curious as to what will happen.