KEY POINTS

  • The EPA won't fine businesses during coronavirus pandemic
  • Businesses will have to demonstrate at attempt to comply to regulations
  • Energy sector had lobbied EPA to relax rules during crisis

With little warning, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Thursday that it would no longer be compelling businesses to comply with a number of health and environmental regulations. Officials said the coronavirus crisis will make it difficult for certain industries to adhere to EPA rules and would need to be granted exceptions.

The decision will forego issuing fines and other penalties for businesses that fail to properly monitor, report and limit the dumping of pollutants. EPA officials said that as employers all over the nation ask their workers to practice “social distancing” to curb the spread of the coronavirus, certain industries are simply becoming too understaffed to be able to conform to EPA regulations.

According to the Associated Press, the decision followed lobbying from members of the energy sector who had argued that the EPA’s rule enforcement would need to be relaxed during the pandemic.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that these changes would be temporary and would retroactively go into effect on March 13. “This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment,” Wheeler said.

Under these measures, companies would need to demonstrate that they had taken steps to comply with EPA regulations “where reasonably practicable” in order to be given a waiver. Criminal violations, however, will not be given a pass.

The EPA under President Donald Trump has frequently come under fire by conservationists for frequently taking steps to roll back regulations on emissions and other pollutants put in place under President Barack Obama. Some critics have said these new waivers being issued by the EPA are merely “an open license to pollute.”

Gina McCarthy, who headed up the EPA under Obama, accused the Trump administration of “taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to do favors for polluters that threaten public health.”

As the economy struggles as a result of the coronavirus crisis, Trump has been desperate to see Americans back to work and to calm Wall Street. In addition to offering these EPA wavers, Congress is set to vote on a $2 trillion stimulus bill after reaching an agreement with the White House. That money will go to helping hurting businesses and getting money to American households.