Energy

Sierra Club Hammers Trump’s EPA For Trying To Help Out Plants Struggling With Compliance Due To Coronavirus

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  • The Environmental Protection Agency gave facilities that are unable or are struggling to comply with environmental regulations leniency provided they can prove their hardships are due to the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the Sierra Club, among other activists, are saying such a move is tantamount to the EPA eliminating the country’s “bedrock environmental and public health laws.”
  • Warren’s criticisms came a month after the Democrat suggested in March that the government cancel federal student loan payments for the duration of the health crisis. 

The Environmental Protection Agency called out Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the Sierra Club on Monday for suggesting the agency is using the virus as cover to allow energy producers to nix regulations.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is effectively eliminating the country’s “bedrock environmental and public health laws,” Warren said. The Sierra Club is jumping on board as well, pushing a petition asking activists to call out President Donald Trump for supposedly gutting regulations.

The EPA is dismissing Warren and the Sierra Club’s characterization, calling the claims “false.”

“EPA’s enforcement authority and responsibility remains active and does not allow for any increases in emissions,” EPA spokeswoman Andrea Woods told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

She added: “It is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules,” before noting that the agency will continue working to ensure regulations are met. EPA gave manufacturers leniency in March to help those that are struggling with compliance amid a pandemic that has killed more than 150,000 people worldwide and nearly 40,000 in the United States.

“We’re in a state of national emergency, but the Trump administration isn’t going to let any good crisis go to waste,” the group noted in an AddUp campaign, which asks activists to send a letter to the EPA demanding the agency do more to administer environmental rules.

“[W]heeler has ordered his agency to stop enforcing basic environmental safeguards,” the Sierra Club wrote before adding: “Yes, that means polluters can pollute as much as they want with no restrictions, and no protections for you, your family, and your community.”

A bipartisan group of attorneys general also got in on the act. Wisconsin AG Josh Kaul and 13 other AGs explained their concern in a letter Thursday to Wheeler, who eased some rules in March on energy companies and manufacturing plants to help them cope with economic lockdowns.

“We will continue to enforce our state environmental laws in a reasonable manner, and stand ready to hold regulated entities accountable under critical federal environmental laws if EPA will not,” Kaul and the other state law enforcement officers wrote.

Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, etched out a similar argument in an April 3 letter to Wheeler. (RELATED: Trump’s EPA Deals Blow To Regulation Conservatives Say Drove Obama’s So-Called War On Coal)

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler looks on during a ceremony to sign the memorandum of understanding on cooperation in urban sustainability with Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles (not pictured) in Brasilia, Brazil January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo

“Despite the global focus on combating the pandemic, agencies throughout the Trump administration appear determined to use this crisis to advance President Trump’s ‘agenda of environmental deregulation,'” Warren and Sen. Ed Markey wrote, citing The New York Times’ reporting. The Massachusetts Democrat added that the EPA should react on a case-by-case basis.

However, the EPA makes clear in the directive that the shift is temporary and restricted only to certain manufacturers hit hard by coronavirus, or COVID-19.

“At the EPA, we are cognizant of potential worker shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency noted. It stated in the directive that such policies are based on individual cases.

“The consequences of the pandemic may affect facility operations and the availability of key staff and contractors and the ability of laboratories to timely analyze samples and provide results,” the EPA stated before noting that such limitations will make it hard to comply with a slate of rules.

The EPA also lists several conditions required before the agency provides leniency.

Facilities that are obligated to comply with rules should “act responsibly under the circumstances” during the pandemic, “identify the specific nature and dates of noncompliance,” and “identify how COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance.”

Reasons for noncompliance must also be documented, according to the directive.

Meanwhile, other federal agencies are easing up on regulations to help lubricate action amid the virus’s spread. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for instance, issued a policy in February allowing laboratories to more quickly develop diagnostic tests spotting the virus.

Warren, for her part, proposed in March to cancel federal student loan payments for the duration of the health crisis. Her proposal would require the government to make the monthly payments for everyone with federal student loans.

Neither the Sierra Club nor Warren’s office have responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.

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