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Nessel and Coalition of AGs Call on EPA to Rescind Policy Limiting Enforcement of Federal Civil Environmental and Public Health Laws

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and 13 other attorneys general joined together on a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler in response to a March 26 memorandum announcing a nationwide policy on limiting the civil enforcement of federal environmental laws during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

The coalition issued the following statement:

“As the chief law enforcement officers of our states, we are greatly concerned by the EPA’s announcement of a nationwide policy significantly curtailing enforcement of our nation’s bedrock environmental and public health laws. Although it is appropriate for the EPA to consider whether safeguards against the coronavirus impact the ability of industry to comply, the agency cannot—in the midst of a public health crisis—lose sight of its mission to protect public health and the environment. Because the policy turns a blind eye to the impacts on our communities of more pollution and lesser accountability, we strongly urge EPA to rescind it.  We will continue to enforce our state environmental laws in a reasonable manner and stand ready to hold regulated entities accountable under critical federal environmental laws if EPA will not.”

Attorney General Nessel has made protection of public health and the environment one of her top priorities since being elected to office, and made it very clear that this is no time for environmental compliance to lag: “These are challenging times for all of us, but COVID-19 must not be used as an excuse to pollute the environment and add to the health problems facing our state and our nation,” said Nessel.

The EPA issued the policy in question on March 26 with no end date, and made it retroactive to March 13. The EPA states in the policy that it does not intend to take enforcement action against companies that, for example, violate existing reporting and monitoring requirements, provided that the companies draw a connection between COVID-19 and their noncompliance, without a requirement for the EPA to justify or explain the impact of the noncompliance.

The policy also ignores the connection between air pollution and its impact on health conditions, such as asthma, which may increase risk of serious harms — including premature death — for individuals who contract the COVID-19 virus.

Nessel joins the attorneys general of Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin in signing this letter.

A copy of the letter is available here.