WV Rivers Analysis: EPA Memo on Environmental Enforcement During Pandemic

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a Memorandum on March 26 outlining their discretion in enforcing noncompliance issues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This policy will be in effect starting March 13 and until further notice. Read the memo here.

WV Rivers was alarmed by EPA’s move to relax environmental regulations during a public health crisis. After analyzing the memo, we are relieved that some safeguards are still in place.

The pandemic has the potential to disrupt routine operations and cause worker shortages at facilities and laboratories which may impact employee trainings, routine inspections, compliance monitoring, water sampling, and reporting.

The EPA will not seek penalties for violations dealing with monitoring and reporting. However, the EPA has heightened expectations for public water systems to ensure safe water is delivered to their customers. Water utilities are required to continue normal operations including monitoring the water for pathogens, nitrate, copper, lead and any contaminants that lead to previous non-compliance.

EPA gives several exemptions to hazardous waste facilities, such as storing waste onsite, the EPA still expects facilities to operate and manage their facilities in a manner that protects public health and the environment. Exemptions to the regulations only apply to COVID-19 related disruptions. EPA will enforce criminal violations that result from intentional disregard for the law. Likewise, the EPA’s temporary policy does not relieve facilities from reporting accidental spills or releases of pollutants.

While EPA has relaxed some of their monitoring and reporting requirements, the WVDEP has stated that all rules, regulations, and permitting requirements remain in effect and they expect facilities to continue operation in a manner that protects public health and the environment. If facilities are unable to meet their requirements due to the pandemic, they must contact WVDEP and comply with EPA’s COVID-19 guidance. Read WVDEP’s statement on COVID-19 here.

Even though state and federal enforcement agencies are adapting to the challenges of the pandemic, WV Rivers will continue to act as a watchdog to ensure our water is protected. 

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