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GUEST OPINION: Trump Uses Coronavirus to Let Polluters Violate Laws At Will

Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club

The EPA issued a suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak. The temporary policy, for which EPA has set no end date, would allow any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency say it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and

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reporting obligations.”

 “Trump’s EPA is putting our public health in danger by using the coronavirus as an excuse to suspend enforcement. Without a cop on the beat, now polluters and others can violate environmental laws at will without getting caught. This is one of the most reckless things done by a government agency. EPA have created a polluter’s holiday. There is no one to enforce environmental laws, which means chemical companies, oil companies, and major polluters can ignore permits, violate the law without any threat of enforcement by the government, now or in the future. Trump basically eliminated the Environmental Protection Agency and created Every Polluters Agenda. There will be more dumping of toxic waste, more harmful air pollution emitted into our water and more hazardous chemicals in our water,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We are in the middle of a health emergency and Trump is using the health emergency to suspend EPA enforcement that will directly affect every American’s health. That is why it is critical for the state of New Jersey to step in and go to court to block President Trump’s dangerous action. We also need the DEP to strengthen their enforcement and make sure our environment and our public health is protected.”

The EPA has been under pressure from a number of industries, including the oil industry, to suspend enforcement of a number of environmental regulations due to the pandemic. In a 10-page letter to EPA earlier this week, the American Petroleum Institute (API) asked for a suspension of rules that require repairing leaky equipment as well as monitoring to make sure pollution doesn’t seep into nearby water.

“EPA’s suspension is extremely concerning because polluters will be able to get away with violating the law now and the agency won’t go after them later. When you eliminate enforcement, it sends a signal to businesses that you can get away with dumping toxic chemicals and violating environmental rules without getting caught. If there are no cops around, you will speed. What the Trump Administration is doing is siding with corporate polluters, especially from the oil, coal, and gas industry over our public health and safety.  No one will be monitoring the air or our drinking water to make sure it’s clean. No one will be checking if the food coming to our markets is safe to eat. Things like the shellfish inspection program will be shut down,” said Tittel. “We won’t have people monitoring chemical safety at refineries, waste facilities or oversight on our air, water, and coast. This means companies could be dumping sewage, toxic chemicals, and more into our environment at their own will.”

Also affected are inspections for Superfund sites, drinking water systems and hazardous waste management.

 “There will be no enforcement when it comes to cleaning up toxic sites. If you start dumping toxic waste, the state will have more Superfund Sites and polluters will not be violated for jeopardizes our health and safety. A suspension not only impacts our environment but hurts our economy too. EPA cleanup for contaminated sites like Fair Lawn Well and Ringwood Superfund Site will be delayed causing communities to remain contaminated and future use for the land to be postponed,” said Tittel. “Without enforcement it will be more likely to have accidents or deliberate dumping of chemicals. Polluters are not going to get caught or held accountable.”

The memo signed by the EPA on Thursday gives industries board authority to pollute with little overnight from the agency. EPA says it will defer to states, and ‘work with the facility’ to minimize or prevent the threat.

 “Instead of taking leadership for protecting the public and the environment, Trump’s EPA is handing over the problem for states to deal with. Trump is using this health emergency as a way to destroy the EPA, ignore and violate environmental laws, and put public health at risk. Instead of siding with the public, he has sided with Big Oil and Polluters. It becomes even more important that New Jersey needs to build a green wall to protect us from President Trump’s dangerous actions. He cannot get away with stripping the essential duties of the EPA under the guise of protecting the public from COVID-19. This is unconscionable and must be stopped,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.  “Even though we are in the middle of a health emergency, Governor Murphy and the Attorney General need to work together and step up to Donald Trump in court. In the meantime, the DEP need to increase inspections and protections here in New Jersey.” 

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