Washington, DC April 9, 2020 – Although the President has declared a national emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic, environmental agencies have not altered their agendas to meet federal directives, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In fact, actions by agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detract from what is officially defined as its “Primary Mission Essential Function.”
Under Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance, EPA’s “Primary Mission Essential Function” is to “Prevent, limit, mitigate or contain chemical, oil, radiological, biological, and/or natural or man-made disaster in designated zones of the United States, and provide environmental monitoring, assessment, and reporting in support of overall domestic incident management.” Yet, Trump’s EPA shirks this role by –
- Prioritizing an array of regulatory rollbacks on clean water, air pollution, and other subjects, devoting scarce resources to finishing new rules later this spring or summer;
- Failing to investigate water-related exposures to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which are present in urine or feces (exposures may occur where there are combined sewage overflows, or when wastewater is re-used for irrigation or other purposes); and
- Slashing investigations and enforcement actions while allowing states to suspend monitoring and discharge limits for industrial polluters, including a new policy to cut civil enforcement during the pandemic.
“EPA’s prime directive should be to focus on public health, while simultaneously protecting its frontline employees,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former EPA enforcement attorney, noting that EPA has refused to suspend or delay non-emergency initiatives that benefit corporate polluters during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Amidst this emergency, public health protections remain an afterthought at EPA.”
Ironically, the agency is citing the pandemic as the reason for delaying testing for PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as “Forever Chemicals” that do not break down in the environment) in water systems. Yet, PFAS weaken the immune system making exposed persons more susceptible to life-threatening COVID-19 effects.
“EPA is failing to take a holistic approach to protecting public health,” added PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “Overall, EPA’s current efforts to safeguard public health are dwarfed by an array of actions to benefit regulated industries.”