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Press Release AG Healey Commits to Enforcing Environmental Protections During Coronavirus Pandemic

Joins AGs in Calling on EPA to Withdraw Policy Suspending Agency’s Enforcement of Federal Environmental Laws
For immediate release:
4/15/2020
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

Media Contact for AG Healey Commits to Enforcing Environmental Protections During Coronavirus Pandemic

Chloe Gotsis

BOSTON Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today issued the following statement pledging to uphold critical environmental and public health protections during the COVID-19 crisis.

The statement aims to provide clarity to regulated entities in Massachusetts that might be misled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent announcement of a nationwide policy to effectively suspend enforcement of certain federal environmental laws.  

The AG’s Office recognizes that protecting public health by ensuring compliance with longstanding environmental laws has never been more important. Last week, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health issued a study linking long term exposure to fine particulate matter with increased COVID-19 death rates, underscoring the importance of continued enforcement of existing air pollution regulations to protect human health during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

“The Trump Administration’s friends in the fossil-fuel industry don’t need a bailout or a free pass to pollute during this unprecedented crisis,” AG Healey said.  “We need to focus all of our resources on protecting the public—not on rushing through rollbacks and giveaways to polluters. Our office is committed to ensuring that the laws are enforced and the health of our residents and natural resources are protected.”

Today, AG Healey also joined 13 other attorneys general in sending a letter to EPA calling on the agency to withdraw its destructive policy.

“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 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,” the attorneys general said in a statement issued today. 

BACKGROUND:

Since the onset of the COVID-19 public health crisis, the fossil-fuel and other polluting industries have lobbied the Trump Administration to waive environmental laws and secure financial benefits for their companies based on purported impacts related to the crisis. On March 20, the American Petroleum Institute sent a letter asking the Administration to waive certain environmental compliance obligations during the crisis. 

On March 26, EPA issued a policy entitled “COVID-19 Implications for EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program,” which states that EPA generally will not take enforcement action against companies that fail to meet certain environmental and public health standards during the COVID-19 emergency. Even in situations where noncompliance poses an imminent threat to public health and natural resources, the policy suggests that EPA might not take enforcement action so long as the company reports the issue to EPA. The policy is retroactive to March 13 and has no end date.

On April 3, U.S. Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to EPA calling the policy “highly dangerous and irresponsible,” and urging EPA to “take immediate steps to end the enforcement moratorium.”

Massachusetts administers and enforces numerous federal and state environmental laws that protect public health and the environment. AG Healey’s Energy and Environment Bureau prosecutes environmental violations, including violations of federal law that might otherwise go unaddressed under EPA’s new policy. In this regard, the Bureau’s Environmental Protection Division last year launched a civil enforcement initiative that focuses on combatting pollution by enforcing the requirements of the federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts at industrial facilities in Massachusetts.

At the same time EPA issued its COVID-19 non-enforcement policy, federal agencies, including EPA, have continued to propose and finalize new rulemakings to roll back environmental and health standards during the ongoing public health crisis, including rules that increase the risk of respiratory illness and premature death. On March 31, AG Healey issued a statement pledging to sue the Trump Administration over its illegal and unjustified final rule to roll back federal limits on tailpipe pollution from cars and trucks. This rollback will increase air pollution, including the types of pollution that contribute to COVID-19 risk factors like asthma and other respiratory illness.

Last month, AG Healey joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general in calling on the Trump Administration to focus its efforts on protecting public health during the COVID-19 pandemic and freeze any non-essential rulemaking. The attorneys general also called on EPA to reopen certain comment periods on pending rulemaking to allow state and local governments, businesses, and others impacted by the public health crisis to provide input related to COVID-19.

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Media Contact for AG Healey Commits to Enforcing Environmental Protections During Coronavirus Pandemic

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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