COVID-19 Era Environmental Compliance
On March 26, 2020, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) issued guidance on how it intends to handle environmental compliance obligations that may be impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. A link to our update on that guidance can be found here. At that time, we expected that the Wisconsin DNR would take a similar approach and exercise its enforcement discretion to deal with situations where the regulated community may not be able to make routine submittals.
On Friday, April 3, 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued some guidance of its own on environmental compliance obligations in light of COVID-19. While not as detailed as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidance, the DNR acknowledges that there will need to be a balance struck while both the regulators and the regulated community attempt to meet their respective obligations while this public health emergency exists.
DNR’s approach is straightforward: all obligations remain, but if there is difficulty in making a routine submittal or other modifications are needed, parties may communicate that fact to the appropriate staff person along with their intended plan to address the non-compliance. DNR will make case-by-case determinations as to the acceptability of the alternative plans. DNR will prioritize imminent threats to public health and the environment over routine compliance matters.
We see this as more of a general housekeeping matter as it relates to routine compliance reports. Any emergency situations, like spills or releases, should still be reported as soon as practical and immediate steps taken to minimize any harm as much as practical. We will continue to evaluate how environmental compliance efforts may be impacted by COVID-19.