EPA Announces Clarification on Its Temporary Compliance Guidance
On March 30, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Press Release to clarify its Temporary Policy released on March 26, 2020, regarding EPA’s enforcement of environmental legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The impetus for the Press Release was based, according to EPA, on the “reckless propaganda” by certain news outlets that provided erroneous or exaggerated information about the Temporary Policy, particularly that the Temporary Policy is providing a blanket waiver of environmental requirements or is creating a presumption that the COVID-19 pandemic is the cause of noncompliance.
EPA’s Press Release outlines certain elements of the Temporary Policy that should not be overlooked:
- The Temporary Policy states that EPA will not seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting requirements, if, on a case-by-case basis, EPA agrees that such noncompliance was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Policy is not intended to cover:
- Exceedances of pollutant limitations in permits, regulations, and statutes.
- Cases which may involve acute risks or imminent threats, or failure of pollution control or other equipment that may result in exceedances, except in possible circumstances where the facility contacts the appropriate EPA region, or authorized state or tribe, and allows regulators to work with that facility to mitigate or eliminate such risks or threats.
- Normal operations and maintenance of public water systems and required sampling of vital drinking water supplies.
- Regulated parties must document the basis for any claim that the pandemic prevented them from conducting that routine monitoring and reporting and present it to EPA upon request. EPA states that it is using this approach to allow EPA to prioritize its resources and respond to acute risks and imminent threats, rather than making up-front case-by-case determinations regarding routine monitoring and reporting requirements.
EPA notes that it expects regulated facilities to comply with regulatory requirements, where reasonably practicable, and to return to compliance as quickly as possible, once the COVID-19 threat is over. EPA states that it plans to lift the measures of the Temporary Policy as soon as normal operations can resume, which may occur sooner in some locations than others.