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Coalition Report: Pollution Prevention in an Age of COVID-19

By Sienna Tuinei, 
MCE Intern
Coalition for the Environment

www.moenviron.org

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on March 26 a temporary policy relaxing enforcement in reaction to the evolving COVID-19 crisis. While the EPA says the policy change does not give a license to pollute, it waives many reporting and testing requirements that alert the public to their exposure to certain pollutants. 

The EPA cites worker health for their reasoning but their policy could have devastating effects for the health of many others. Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council and former EPA Administrator under President Obama, called it “an open license to pollute.” Relaxation on compliance enables companies to hide behind the current crisis and exceed pollution limits they would otherwise have to abide by. 

How is this new policy affecting the state of Missouri? The policy specifically excludes superfund sites and court orders. Therefore, operators at the West Lake Landfill must continue to monitor and comply with permits and regulations as before. Work being done by MSD pursuant to its consent decree with EPA and MCE must also continue as before.

For the most part, air and water permits in Missouri are handled by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). DNR has asked permittees to notify DNR by email if they do not believe they can comply with their permits during this time and are accepting alternate schedules for reporting. Testing, sample collections, and monitoring data are also due at the discretion of individual facilities. All noncompliance orders will be handled on a case-by-case method. This translates to possible pollution violations across the state that will not be known to the public until after the damage has been done. “Now is not the time to weaken pollution enforcement, especially air enforcement, when a global respiratory illness is sending thousands of people to the hospital throughout Missouri,” said Heather Navarro, MCE’s Executive Director.

Without routine monitoring, timely reporting, and effective enforcement air pollution risks are likely to rise in some places. Air pollution contributes significantly to lung and heart problems. Now more than ever, it is vital for companies to become more environmentally responsible in their compliance. If polluters are not able to comply or timely report they are supposed to notify the EPA. However, if monitoring is not possible then violations may never even be noticed. Better guidance would have required certain operations to shut down if they could not comply. 

These have been a difficult past few months for everyone and we need to make accommodations for struggling businesses and industries. However, it should not be on the backs of those already exposed to their unfair share of pollution. The job of the EPA and DNR is to protect our environment and health. We need them to stay focused on those priorities, especially when times get tough.

Learn more and take action at our website: www.moenviron.org.

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