Who Could Possibly Have Guessed?

Joel Mintz

July 29, 2020

In an article headlined, "Dozens of facilities skipping out on EPA pollution monitoring have prior offenses," The Hill reports the following today:

More than 50 facilities across the country that have faced enforcement actions for alleged Clean Water Act violations are among those taking advantage of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy that lets companies forgo pollution monitoring during the pandemic, an analysis by The Hill found. The temporary EPA policy, announced in March, says industrial, municipal and other facilities do not have to report pollution discharges if they can demonstrate their ability to do so has been limited by the coronavirus. The Hill first reported that 352 facilities have skipped water pollution monitoring requirements under the policy, which applies to air pollution as well. Of those facilities, 55 have faced formal enforcement actions in the past five years from either the EPA or state regulators.

As disturbing as this news is, it is absolutely no surprise. In practical effect, EPA invited polluters to use the coronavirus as an excuse to cheat with abandon, and hundreds of facilities have taken them up on the offer, including dozens with bad track records.

The burden is now EPA's to investigate instances in which polluters failed to self-monitor/self-report while claiming the failure was necessitated by the pandemic. As a practical matter, that is most likely to happen at the regional office level, and it's reasonable to guess that some EPA regions will follow up effectively and efficiently while others will do little or nothing to examine what actually happened during the pandemic. Leadership from Washington would make a difference, of course, but there's no reason to expect that. (Although if EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is listening, I'd be delighted to be proved wrong.)

Also, it's worth noting that the see-no-evil, report-no-evil policy will continue until the end of August, so there will surely be more of this to come. Hat tip to The Hill for doing the math on this.

Top photo by the Natural Resources Defense Council, used under a Creative Commons license.

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