EPA Uses COVID-19 As Excuse to Rescind Environmental Regulations

  • 05/01/2020
  • Mark Friedman

By Mark Friedman, RLn Contributor

Not to be outdone by President Donald  Trump’s ongoing degradation of the environmental regulations instituted since the first Earth Day 50 years ago, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler chose the anniversary to gut a rule that compelled the country’s coal plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other health hazards.

Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the coal industry, said that “we have put in place an honest accounting method” that balances the cost utilities with public safety.” Sorry, it’s one or the other, profits or safety and he has decided to put utility profits over the health of people who are severely impacted by mercury emissions, especially children.

Citing a threat from the virus, the EPA suspended enforcement of a wide range of health and environmental protections on March 30. The EPA waived enforcement of a range of legally mandated protections over water, air and land saying that industries would have trouble complying with them during the pandemic.

Of course, the energy companies topped the list, seeking relaxation of environmental and public health enforcement so they could continue to pollute at will the air, water and land in our communities. The EPA’s decision also eliminated fines or other civil penalties for companies that “failed to monitor, report or meet other requirements for releasing hazardous pollutants.” In other words, these companies can dump whatever they want wherever they want, no matter how toxic, in whatever quantity and the government will look the other way. Profits are put first, while the energy companies rake in billions and fail to clean up even when court-ordered and fined for toxic sites within even their own refineries in Torrance and Wilmington. They never seem to pay the fines either.

Environmentalists, of course, sounded the alarm.

“No one has ever seen anything like this. This is a complete pass for every industry,” said Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The announcement is “an open license to pollute” she told the Los Angeles Times.

The following is an excerpt from the EPA website about the affordable clean energy rule. I will leave you to read between the lines. “On June 19, 2019, EPA issued the final Affordable Clean Energy rule—replacing the prior administration’s overreaching Clean Power Plan with a rule that restores rule of law, empowers states and supports energy diversity.”

In case you need help, “overreaching” means too many rules for cleaner air.  “Rule of law” means whatever big polluting businesses and refineries can get away with by circumventing regulations and buying politicians (including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti) and judges. “Energy diversity” is code for expanding fracking, offshore drilling, national forest and arctic oil drilling and mining and general expansion of highly profitable energy resources. Preferably it would be wind and solar power, but don’t hold your breath.

How should we as working people, victims of corporate pollution and health care crises respond?

First of all, we should realize that all lobbying and legislation mean nothing when the government, which is run by and for big business, wants to throw them out under whatever phony excuse it can conjure up and make us believe.

Health and safety of all workers and working people must be at the top of our list as shown by the nationwide protests of nurses, doctors, Amazon, airport and factory workers demanding better protective equipment than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say is necessary. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC has prioritized maintaining profitability of businesses like the cruise lines, factories and gun shops. It is  more concerned about the stock market and the economy than our health.

Meanwhile, workers in other countries, especially Italy, have executed labor actions for safety equipment if they are to be forced to work. Workers at LAX have done the same.

Articles in the New York Times and elsewhere have shown the corruption and ineptness of the CDC and Washington, D.C., under Democrats and Republicans, in failing to procure and store enough emergency equipment even after seeing the impact of the H1N1 and SARS epidemics. They paid companies and received zero.

Labor, organized in our unions, needs to wage a fight to halt the destruction of the environment internationally, and to protect ourselves during this pandemic. We have the biggest stake in protecting the environment, as an integral part of defending our health, safety and working and living conditions. To the hundreds of environmental organizations out there, I say what are you doing? We can organize protests staying six feet apart as nurses, factory workers and others have done. We may have missed Earth Day for such public protest actions. But they are desperately needed.

As long as businesses and the government are run for profit, they will try to get away with as much as they can in their profit quest. The following is a list of what we should demand:

1. Make corporations pay for their pollution. Give unions control of health and safety and give employers the bill.

2. Create jobs for all by shortening the work week to 30 hours but keeping the same pay, thus hiring enough workers to do jobs safely and cleanly. And give full pay to all laid off workers during current business shutdowns.

3. Import Interferon Alpha 2b, a Cuban medicine that reduces symptoms, duration and mortality of COVID-19. End the blockade of Cuba.

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