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The Environmental Protection Agency suspended enforcement of its civil environmental regulations Thursday, citing the coronavirus outbreak.
The move, according to the former head of its Office of Enforcement, is "unprecedented" and could be in effect for the "indefinite future."
The EPA said its rules would strain companies trying to "protect workers and the public from COVID-19," the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it has stopped enforcing a host of environmental regulations because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Facilities must comply with regulations "where reasonably practicable," the EPA said in a statement. But the agency will not "seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations."
The agency's normal regulations would unnecessarily hamper companies that emit pollutants, said Administrator Andrew Wheeler, since the companies are also trying to "protect workers and the public from COVID-19," the disease caused by the virus.
The policy applies to civil violations, according to the statement, but "does not provide leniency for intentional criminal violations of law."
Cynthia Giles, head of the EPA's Office of Enforcement under Barack Obama, told the Hill that the move was a troubling one.
"This EPA statement is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future," Giles said. "It tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way 'caused' by the virus pandemic. And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was."
The policy, which the EPA said is "temporary," will be backdated to March 13. The agency did not say how long the suspension would last.
In recent weeks, American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group for fossil fuel companies, has asked President Donald Trump and the EPA to loosen environmental regulations and waive-record keeping, according to The Hill.
Giles said the EPA suspension is unprecedented.
"I am not aware of any instance when EPA ever relinquished this fundamental authority as it does in this memo," she told The Hill.
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