Citing COVID-19, the EPA suspended monitoring, reporting and enforcement of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act in Utah and elsewhere. Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity said this change has led hundreds of companies to apply for pandemic pollution waivers.
"We’ve seen examples of wastewater treatment plants and sewage treatment plants, of organic chemical manufacturers, where the outflow goes to waterways that are inhabited by listed," Margolis said.
The EPA said companies need more leeway to deal with the constraints imposed by the coronavirus emergency, and has promised to resume enforcement of environmental laws starting in September. The Endangered Species Act allows for emergency modifications, but requires the EPA to consult with Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service - something the lawsuit contends was not done.
Plaintiffs in the suit include the Center for Biological Diversity, the Waterkeeper Alliance and Riverkeeper. Margolis said the EPA's policy of non-enforcement amounts to a free pass for polluters.
"And there’s certainly some evidence that this policy was passed because of pressure from corporate entities, including oil and gas companies that potentially see this pandemic as a way to avoid environmental regulation," Margolis said.
The lawsuit calls on the agency to conduct a study to determine if pollution has, in fact, increased as enforcement actions have dropped off.