The Adirondack Council has thanked New York Attorney General Letitia James, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos for standing up to the Trump administration’s rollbacks in environmental regulations and enforcement.
“More than 1,000 of our members and friends have written to Congress to express their frustration over the Trump administration’s decision to weaken clean air rules and enforcement amidst a respiratory pandemic,” said the Adirondack Council, via Communications Director John F. Sheehan. “We are thrilled to see New York government speaking with a single voice against these irresponsible actions, and gathering support from around the nation. Weakening clean air safeguards can cause increases in smog and acid rain, which harm public health and degrade the forests and waters of the Adirondacks.”
Attorney General James is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos recently scolded EPA.
James’s suit noted that EPA told air polluters on March 13 that they don’t have to keep track of their pollution during the COVID-19 crisis, and will face no penalties for failing to do so.
“The policy’s effective waiver of these requirements, which are foundational to our federal environmental laws, exceeds EPA’s authority,” her suit says. “EPA failed – in the midst of a public health emergency – to consider the impacts of relaxing those obligations on public health.”
She urged the U.S. District Court in Manhattan to vacate the EPA’s policy. She was joined in the complaint by attorneys general from California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia.
The May 13 lawsuit notes: “On March 23, 2020, the American Petroleum Institute (API) wrote to EPA and requested that EPA ‘temporarily waiv[e] non-essential compliance obligations’ under various federal environmental laws in light of the pandemic … On March 26, (EPA) Assistant Administrator Bodine issued the non enforcement policy, which applies retroactively to March 13, the date President Trump declared a national emergency. The policy states that it is ‘temporary,’ but currently has no end date.”
The non enforcement policy sets forth several areas in which EPA will exercise enforcement discretion: compliance monitoring and reporting, consent decree obligations, facility operations, and drinking water systems.
For example, the failure to conduct continuous emissions monitoring, leak detection and repair, integrity testing of storage tanks and other equipment, fence-line monitoring of hazardous air pollutants, and wastewater sampling and testing will not provoke civil enforcement from EPA. In justifying waiving enforcement for violations of monitoring and reporting requirements in advance, EPA did not cite any evidence that facilities could not continue to perform these functions, the suit said.
In a public statement on May 13, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos cheered James’s lawsuit and added: “At a time when our nation is struggling to fight the largest public health crisis of our lifetime, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is discounting the value of public health by rolling back rules and regulations that protect public health and the environment.”