States sue over weakened enforcement during pandemic

Source: By Pamela King, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2020

Nine state attorneys general today took the Trump administration to court for walking back enforcement of federal environmental laws during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their lawsuit follows a similar challenge filed by environmental interests over EPA’s announcement it would relax pollution monitoring requirements for companies during the public health emergency (Greenwire, April 16).

“The Trump Administration cannot give industries the green light to ignore critical environmental and public health laws, especially during a public health crisis,” New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said in a statement today. “The EPA’s non-enforcement policy puts our already damaged public health in danger by freely allowing pollution from big corporations.

“There has never been a more important time to prioritize the health of our communities, and we will not stop fighting for the health and safety of all Americans,” James said.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, also lists the attorneys general of California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont and Virginia as challengers. The state lawyers are all Democrats.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said EPA has created “a presumption of nonenforcement” that will increase air pollution as the nation battles the spread of a respiratory virus.

“The Trump Administration is trying to use the current public health crisis to sweep environmental violations under the rug,” Becerra said in a statement. “What’s worse, the Administration is doing so even as evidence grows that communities exposed to air pollution are at increased risk from coronavirus.”

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has pushed back on criticisms that the EPA policy constitutes a waiver of environmental laws.

“We will continue to work with federal, state and tribal partners to ensure that facilities are meeting regulatory requirements, while taking appropriate steps to protect the health of our staff and the public,” Wheeler said in a press release last month (E&E News PM, April 2).