States Sue Trump EPA for Suspending Environmental Regulations During Pandemic
On Wednesday, nine states sued the Trump administration over the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) decision to temporarily relax various environmental regulations during the coronavirus pandemic.
The states' complaint challenges a March 26 EPA memo in which the agency put forth a new, relaxed policy. Polluters are allowed, at their sole discretion, to stop monitoring and reporting air emissions and water pollution levels during the outbreak.
The memo was produced by the EPA's compliance director, Susan Parker Bodine, three days after she received a request from the American Petroleum Institute to halt pollution enforcement, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
In the memo, Bodine announced that the new, relaxed policies would be retroactive to March 13, when President Trump declared a state of emergency regarding COVID-19. Due to outbreak-related "potential worker shortages" and "travel and social distancing restrictions," companies could decide for themselves when it would no longer be practical to monitor pollution and report it to federal, state and local agencies, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Bodine said businesses should try to follow reporting and monitoring regulations but that noncompliance would not be penalized if caused by coronavirus, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. She did not indicate how the EPA could learn of any violations or dangerous emissions if reporting isn't required, the news report added.
Similarly, the regulation change is "temporary," but no end date is indicated in the memo. And, while companies are required to document their noncompliance, critics fear the environmental damage will already be done, reported The Hill.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that the EPA recognized that challenges created by COVID-19 "may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements," reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
Wheeler also said the agency would still "expect facilities to comply with their obligations under the law" unless, of course, Covid-19 made it "impracticable," reported Bloomberg Law.
The states' lawsuit, filed in New York federal court, alleges that the EPA lacks the legal authority to "effectively waive critical monitoring and reporting obligations" that alert the public to environmental and health hazards, reported Bloomberg Law. It also argues that the EPA failed to properly weigh the public health impacts the relaxed policy will have amid the coronavirus pandemic, reported Reuters.
"Rather than exercising enforcement discretion as authorized by law, EPA issued a broad, open-ended policy that gives regulated parties free rein to self-determine when compliance with federal environmental laws is not practical because of Covid-19," the complaint stated.
The enforcement suspensions will lead to more chemical spills and "likely will result in increased air and water pollution," endangering residents who live nearby, downwind or downstream, the suit added, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
The states also argued that the EPA failed to demonstrate both the need for the drastic change and any rationale for bypassing the traditional notice and comment period required for new rules, reported The Hill. The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act both require companies to monitor and report emissions to the EPA, and the agency has therefore exceeded its authorities under both regulations, the complaint says, reported The Hill.
"The Trump Administration cannot give industries the green light to ignore critical environmental and public health laws, especially during a public health crisis," said New York Attorney General Letitia James, reported Bloomberg Law.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said, "The Trump Administration is trying to use the current public health crisis to sweep environmental violations under the rug," reported The Hill.
"What's worse, the Administration is doing so even as evidence grows that communities exposed to air pollution are at increased risk from coronavirus," he added, reported The Hill.
The EPA would not comment on the litigation, but told The Hill that "the EPA temporary policy is a lawful and proper exercise of the Agency's authority under extraordinary circumstances." In the same statement, the EPA noted, "This is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules."
The EPA was also sued on April 16 by environmental groups seeking to require the agency to determine when companies stopped complying with environmental laws and to immediately notify the public, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
The nine states filing the complaint are California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Virginia. The suit alleges that the regulation rollback, if allowed to persist, will force states to try to "fill EPA's enforcement shoes at a time when they are increasingly strapped for resources, or risk the health of our residents," reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
- 'This Will Be the Biggest Loss of Clean Water Protection the Country ... ›
- Trump Dismantles Environmental Protections Under Cover of ... ›
- Trump Named 'Worst President for Our Environment in History' by ... ›
- Trump USDA Resumes Effort to Cut Food Stamp Benefits - EcoWatch ›
- Trump EPA Curbs State Power to Reject Fossil Fuel Projects ›
- Trump EPA Hinder Biden Efforts to Address Climate and Pollution ›
New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.
- Groundbreaking Fossil Shows Prehistoric 15-Foot Reptile Tried to ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Giant 'Toothed' Birds Flew Over Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago ... ›
- World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›