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June 17, 2020 by Thomas McGarity

OSHA, Other Agencies Need to Step Up on COVID-19, Future Pandemics

Governments and industries are "reopening" the economy while COVID-19 continues to rage across the United States. At the same time, the lack of effective, enforceable workplace health and safety standards puts workers and the general public at heightened risk of contracting the deadly virus. In a new report from the Center for Progressive Reform, Sidney Shapiro, Michael Duff, and I examine the threats, highlight industries at greatest risk, and offer recommendations to federal and state governments to better protect workers and the public.

In many essential industries, the coronavirus risk is particularly acute because of the nature of the work and of the workplaces in which it is conducted. The lack of enforceable, pandemic-specific protections for workers and the hodgepodge of industry responses heighten this danger to workers. Industries affected range from health care to meatpacking, transportation to warehousing.

Heaping injustice on top of danger, coronavirus-related hazards fall disproportionately on Black, Latinx, and low-income workers – people whose economic circumstances and less reliable access to health care renders them all the more vulnerable. These workers are being treated as expendable, forced by the threat of losing their jobs to accept risks no member of Congress or White House staffer would accept …

April 21, 2020 by Brian Gumm
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On April 17, CPR Board President Rob Verchick joined EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine and other panelists for an American Bar Association webinar on environmental protections and enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the event, Bodine expressed "surprise" that the agency's pandemic enforcement policy was so roundly criticized, but she shouldn't have been caught off guard by those critiques.

As Verchick noted during the discussion, "The problem with [weakening monitoring and pollution reporting requirements] is that fenceline communities have no idea where to look. They have no idea if the facilities in their backyards are…taking a holiday from pollution requirements or not."

Verchick added, "Companies don't know what their competitors are doing, and so now you've got companies who might be thinking, oh, well, my competing facilities, maybe they're taking advantage of this and I must, too, because nobody knows who's taking advantage …

April 10, 2020 by Rena Steinzor
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If you were the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as news of the coronavirus pandemic hit, what would you do to implement your mission to protect public health?

The best answer has three parts: first, determine what specific categories of pollution could exacerbate the disease; second, assemble staff experts to develop lists of companies that produce that pollution; and, third, figure out how the federal government could ensure that companies do their best to mitigate emissions.

Rather than take that approach, EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine issued a memo late last month offering businesses assurance that EPA would overlook certain regulatory violations for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. Public interest groups, already alarmed by the possibility that regulatory rollbacks at the agency would continue at a relentless pace despite the pandemic, were apoplectic …

April 8, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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Originally published on Expert Forum, a blog of the American Constitution Society. Reprinted with permission.


It has often been observed that natural disasters bring out the best and worst in people. Sadly, with regard to environmental protection, the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the worst in the Trump administration. Using the pandemic as a pretext, Trump's EPA has continued to propose and implement substantial rollbacks in important safeguards to our health and the environment while issuing an unduly lax enforcement policy.

For example, the administration recently issued a final rule rolling back automobile fuel efficiency standards. Its new regulation effectively undoes the federal government's program to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In a severe blow to global efforts to address the climate crisis, the regulation allows motor vehicles driven in the United States to emit almost 1 billion tons more carbon dioxide than would have been permitted under …

April 7, 2020 by David Flores
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With all the talk of the "new normal" brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot lose sight of how government policies and heavy industry continue to force certain populations and communities into a persistent existential nightmare. Polluted air, poisoned water, the threat of chemical explosions – these are all unjust realities that many marginalized and vulnerable Americans face all the time that are even more concerning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nothing could make these injustices more outrageously apparent and dangerous than EPA’s signaled retreat on environmental standards and enforcement, which cravenly takes advantage of the global pandemic and a rapidly expanding economic collapse. On March 26, Susan Bodine, EPA's Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, issued a memo outlining the agency's sweeping, temporary enforcement policy. Advocates, scientists, and communities almost immediately objected, and in a few days’ time, environmental organizations filed a …

March 31, 2020 by Brian Gumm
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On March 27, the Center for Progressive Reform joined environmental justice, public health, and community advocates in calling out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for suspending enforcement of our nation's crucial environmental laws. The agency made the move as part of the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, despite mounting evidence that increased air pollution worsens COVID-19, the disease the virus causes.

Not missing the opportunity to use the crisis as an excuse to press its assault on our safeguards, the EPA said last week that it would not "seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations" for an indefinite period of time. As the coalition of groups noted, the order is broad and "relieves polluting and hazardous industries from meeting environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak, with no end date in sight."

The enforcement suspension will almost certainly lead to …

March 5, 2020 by Matt Shudtz
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From the farm fields of California to the low-lying neighborhoods along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, structural racism and legally sanctioned inequities are combining with the effects of the climate crisis to put people in danger. The danger is manifest in heat stroke suffered by migrant farmworkers and failing sewer systems that back up into homes in formerly redlined neighborhoods. Fortunately, public interest attorneys across the country are attuned to these problems and are finding ways to use the law to force employers and polluters to adapt to the realities of the climate crisis.

The second installment in CPR's climate justice webinar series showcased some of the important work these public interest advocates are doing and explored how their efforts are affected by enforcement policy and resource changes at regulatory agencies, from the federal level on down. Scroll down to watch a recording of the hour-long …

Feb. 24, 2020 by Joel Mintz
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Originally published in The Revelator. Reprinted under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.

In recent months the Trump administration has intensified its assault on federal environmental safeguards on several fronts. It has proposed drastic reductions in the scope of protections against water and air pollution, lagged in the cleanup of hazardous waste contamination, allowed the continued marketing of toxic herbicides, narrowed the scope of needed environmental impact reviews, ignored and undermined legitimate scientific studies and findings, and dismantled government attempts to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.

Every bit as disturbing, but much less discussed, is a discouraging deterioration in the rigor of EPA’s once-effective enforcement program, which identifies and punishes polluters that skirt federal regulations.

The agency’s latest enforcement statistics reflect a dramatic decline in injunctive relief — the amount of money EPA-enforcement activities compelled polluters to commit to spending to correct their environmental …

April 8, 2019 by Evan Isaacson
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The Chesapeake Bay Program has just compiled its annual data assessing progress toward the watershed-wide pollution reduction target under the Bay restoration framework known as the "Bay TMDL." The bottom line is that recent gains in Bay health could soon be eclipsed by the lagging pace of pollution reductions, with the likely result that the region will fall well short of the Bay TMDL 2025 target date to achieve the reductions needed to restore the Bay's health.

One of the primary causes of this slow pace of progress is that the agencies primarily responsible for Bay restoration simply aren't doing their jobs the way they used to. For example, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) recently released its annual report showing the level of activity enforcing environmental laws. In 2018, the agency reported just 25 actions to enforce the federal Clean Water Act's core regulatory …

Oct. 16, 2018 by Joel Mintz
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To serve the cause of justice, law enforcement must be prompt, even-handed, and appropriate to the circumstances of individual cases. In their handling of an important recent pollution case, however, the enforcement activities of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have been none of those things.

The case involves the alleged use by Mercedes-Benz of software "defeat devices" in its diesel cars to override pollution control devices. There is considerable evidence that Mercedes' misconduct was intentional, and that over a period of years, its systematic cheating resulted in the emission of many times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxide – a pollutant that harms human health and contributes to climate change, smog, and other air pollution problems. In fact, one Mercedes diesel model's maximum emissions were found to be a whopping 91 times the emission standard.

The Mercedes-Benz defeat device scandal …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
June 17, 2020

OSHA, Other Agencies Need to Step Up on COVID-19, Future Pandemics

April 21, 2020

CPR's Verchick Notes Weakening Environmental Enforcement during Pandemic Endangers Fenceline Communities

April 10, 2020

The Pandemic and Industry Opportunism

April 8, 2020

Trump's EPA Uses the Coronavirus Crisis to Mask Environmental Deregulation and Suspend Enforcement

April 7, 2020

EPA Shouldn't Use Coronavirus as Excuse to Look the Other Way on Pollution

March 31, 2020

CPR Joins Advocates in Blasting EPA's Free Pass for Polluters

March 5, 2020

How Can Legal and Regulatory Enforcement Help Communities at Risk from the Climate Crisis?