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THE NUMBERS ARE IN: More than 350 facilities nationwide have taken advantage of a temporary Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that lets companies forgo monitoring their water pollution during the pandemic.
A total of 352 facilities, including fossil fuel companies, water treatment plants and schools, made use of the EPA’s relaxation of Clean Water Act requirements, according to a list the agency shared with The Hill. At least one company on the list recently settled with the EPA to resolve allegations of Clean Water Act violations dating back to 2016.
Environmentalists are raising alarms over the number of facilities that aren’t monitoring their pollution levels, saying the damage could last well beyond the Aug. 31 expiration date of the temporary policy.
“Where facilities don’t monitor their own discharges and emissions, that can present significant environmental problems depending on what wasn’t reported that got into the environment,” said Joel Mintz, a former EPA enforcement attorney.
On March 26, the EPA announced it would allow companies and others to pause their pollution monitoring if they could demonstrate hardship stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The agency said the move would allow facilities to focus more on pollution controls and safety instead of sampling and monitoring.
Opponents argued that if companies are not required to monitor how much pollution they emit, they might exceed legal limits. Critics also decried the open-ended nature of the temporary policy, which until last week had no end date.
In a letter to lawmakers last week, EPA enforcement official Susan Parker Bodine indicated that about 300 facilities with permits for pollution discharges under the Clean Water Act would not be submitting monitoring reports. Instead, they would enter a special COVID-19 code into the EPA’s tracking system.
“To date, out of over 49,600 facilities with a Clean Water Act discharge permit, only about 300 facilities have used the COVID-19 code,” Bodine wrote. “This is about six tenths of one percent.”
The EPA’s list shared with The Hill shows that facilities across all 10 of the EPA’s regional jurisdictions have used the COVID-19 code.
Clean Water Act discharges were not the only type of pollution-monitoring impacted by the temporary EPA policy. Facilities are permitted to skip other types of pollution monitoring, meaning the total number of facilities taking advantage of the policy likely exceeds 352.
And a facility on the list has been accused of violating the rules before…
One facility on the list is owned by a company accused of Clean Water Act violations stemming from oil spills in Wyoming in 2016 and 2019.
The EPA on March 18 said Houston-based Citation Oil & Gas Corp. would pay a civil penalty of $115,000 to resolve allegations of regulatory violations surrounding the oil spills.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Environmentalists argue that the EPA should be scrutinizing companies that have been credibly accused of violations.
“I think that EPA — or the relevant state agency — should give that company the highest priority in checking whether its recent non-compliance was actually a result of the pandemic as opposed to an attempt to game the system,” said Mintz, who’s now a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
HOUSE TARGETS ‘SECRET SCIENCE’ RULE: The Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee on Friday voted to block a controversial Trump administration transparency rule that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own independent board of science advisers criticized.
“This rule would place new crippling limits on what studies can be utilized when EPA crafts new regulation,” said the amendment’s sponsor, Rep. David PriceDavid Eugene Price189 House Democrats urge Israel to ‘reconsider’ annexation Partisan divide on annexation complicates US-Israel relationship National service will give thousands of Americans a chance to recover and rebuild their communities MORE (D-N.C.), citing a slew of experts and scientific associations.
Scientists have decried the 2018 rule, which the administration sought to broaden in March, as an effort to block the EPA from being able to use significant amounts of research in its rulemaking.
“The problem is throwing up impossible standards of reproducibility that make it exclude huge swaths of research from being considered for the scientific rulemaking enterprise,” Price said.
The Trump administration has argued that the rule, which gives preference to studies based on public data, will increase transparency by banning “secret science.”
But the EPA’s own independent Science Advisory Board said there was no justification for the rule and raised “concerns about the scientific and technical challenges of implementing” it.
“It is plausible that in some situations, the proposed rule will decrease efficiency and reduce scientific integrity,” the board wrote in its review of the rule.
The amendment, which tackled the rule by blocking funding for its implementation, passed by voice vote in the House Appropriations Committee’s markup of the $36.8 billion interior and environment spending bill for the 2021 fiscal year.
The House is expected to take up the measure later in the month, but its various positions, including the provision denying funds for implementing the rule, may face challenges in the Senate, where bipartisan support is required to pass spending bills.
HOLDING UP THE GRID: A federal court on Friday upheld a regulation that removes barriers to grid-level batteries that store electricity.
The regulation in question requires that grid operators treat storage similar to the way power plants are treated. It was promulgated in 2018 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
FERC Chairman Neil ChatterjeeIndranil (Neil) ChatterjeeOvernight Energy: Trump officials may pursue offshore drilling after election, report says | Energy regulators to delay projects pending appeals | EPA union calls for ‘moratorium’ on reopening plans Energy commission rule will delay pipeline construction during appeals process OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Government predicts busy hurricane season | Report: BLM says oil and gas operators should set their own royalty rates for public lands drilling | Michigan flooding risks damage to hazardous waste sites: report MORE on Friday said on Twitter that the rule will “be seen as the most important act we could take to ensure a smooth transition to a new #cleanenergy future.”
The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners challenged the rule in court and has argued that the decision goes beyond the scope of FERC’s authority and violates states rights. But the court did not agree, saying in its decision that “we find no foul here.” The judges did note, however, that illegal applications of the rule can be challenged.
The original rule was passed unanimously by the three Republicans and two Democrats serving on the commission at the time.
ON TAP NEXT WEEK:
- The House Appropriations Committee will hold a markup of its Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies, and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill
- The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a series of bills
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold an oversight hearing on the Energy Department titled “Oversight of DOE During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette is expected to appear
- The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold an oversight hearing titled “Energy Infrastructure and Environmental Justice: Lessons for a Sustainable Future”
- The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing titled “Sweltering in Place: COVID-19, Extreme Heat, and Environmental Justice”
- The House Science, Space and Technology panel will hold a hearing on “Accelerating our Progress toward Economic Recovery and a Clean Energy Future”
OUTSIDE (AND INSIDE) THE BELTWAY:
Air Pollution Takes a Global Toll on Heart Health, The New York Times reports
E&E News examines why the EPA’s watchdog investigated Jeffrey Epstein
R.I. faces daunting challenge meeting governor’s 100% renewable energy goal, The Providence Journal reports
Tropical Storm Fay Makes Landfall in New Jersey, Producing Flooding Rain in Parts of New Jersey, New York, The Weather Channel reports