Some of the country’s most polluting industries have flooded state regulators with requests to ease environmental regulations, according to an NPR review of hundreds of state environmental records.
Companies across the country say the pandemic is interfering with their ability to comply with laws that protect the public from pollution.
State environmental authorities are currently the only source of official information about which companies have sought regulatory relief. That’s because in March, the Environmental Protection Agency told companies that they do not need to warn federal regulators if the pandemic interferes with routine pollution monitoring or testing.
That puts states alone on the front lines of environmental protection, even as they struggle to cope with the immediate effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
In some cases, the EPA’s March policy change appears to shape requests corporations made to state regulators. In Indiana, the head of the state’s environmental authority received a letter from Marathon Petroleum Corp. on the same day the EPA announced its new policy, that asks for permission to delay or skip pollution monitoring and reporting at more than a dozen facilities.
The letter lists ten regulatory categories — eight of which appear in the EPA’s memo — with which the company said it might not be able to comply because of the pandemic, including testing how much pollution comes out of smokestacks and drainage pipes.
“That was an extraordinarily broad request,” says Janet McCabe, who served as EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, and now directs the Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana University. “It just seems like it’s totally taking advantage of the situation.”