EPA relaxes enforcement amid virus


EPA issued a temporary policy that will allow for industries like oil, gas and chemical companies to delay some regulatory compliance amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The policy shift follows requests from industry groups who say workers can’t perform all of the tasks required to comply with environmental laws while many of them are social distancing. There are a number of reporting, training and monitoring requirements that should be eased to promote social distancing and keep workers from having to gather, oil industry executives told POLITICO.

The EPA memo issued Thursday is written broadly and avoids making specific enforcement promises, but does outline some steps for companies to document how the virus affects compliance.

“We have not provided specific criteria, but the memo does state as the lead-in that the reason we’re doing it is because we’re aware of the travel restrictions, the social distancing restrictions and in fact even the stay-at-home restrictions,” EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine told reporters.

Critics like Cynthia Giles, the Obama-era enforcement chief now at Harvard’s Environmental and Energy Law Program, said EPA shouldn’t be granting breaks so broadly. “These rules are there to protect health and they can only be put to one side in the most extreme extraordinary circumstances, and even then only when very narrowly tailored to address a specific problem,” she said.

EPA is also weighing letting oil refiners sell winter-blend gasoline later in the year to account for reduced demand in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.

“We are looking at the fuels issues on a separate basis and that would be a case-specific issue,” Wheeler told reporters on a conference call, adding the agency hopes to have “some sort of announcement on the fuels” soon.

Source: POLITICO’s Morning Energy Report