March 27, 2020
Contact: Alex P. Kellogg, Communications Strategist, Coming Clean, Inc.
802-251-0203 x709, firstname.lastname@example.org
Environmental justice advocates, scientists, public health experts, affected community members and others joined forces Friday to declare their outrage that the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws under cover of the coronavirus pandemic.
The EPA’s decision, announced Thursday, relieves polluting and hazardous industries from meeting environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak, with no end date in sight. After buckling under industry pressure, the agency stated Thursday it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations” during this time.
This decision gives companies broad authority to pollute without governmental oversight at a time when the most affected -- people of color, native indigenous and the poor -- are already struggling to make ends meet, and are already at greater risk from the coronavirus. In other words, the EPA’s decision will hit America’s most vulnerable populations the hardest.
A large body of scientific research proves people of color and the poor are already disproportionately exposed to toxic chemicals because polluting facilities are more likely to be located where they live. As documented in “Life at the Fenceline” (https://ej4all.org/life-at-the-fenceline), the communities closest to chemical plants and oil refineries, known as Fenceline communities, face prolonged exposure to pollutants to their air and water, many of which may harm respiratory health.
But the problem isn’t just one that people of color and the poor face. Nearly 40 percent of Americans live within three miles of a high-risk industrial or commercial facility that puts them at constant risk of a chemical disaster.
The EPA’s action has public health experts, researchers, and community members concerned that additional pollution detrimental to health could be on the way and affect people already health impaired when strong immune systems are necessary to survive a coronavirus infection.
“This suspension of EPA enforcement adds a heightened anxiety to environmental justice communities, far too many of which live in fear of potential explosions at nearby industrial facilities daily. Leaving communities such as environmental justice communities vulnerable to suspended enforcement, especially during a pandemic, is a blatant disregard for life and the living. Thereby leaving one to believe this is an attempt at environmental genocide. That's a shame given today of all times when we should be about our humanity,” said Michele Roberts and Richard Moore, National Co-Coordinators for the Environmental Justice Health Alliance.
“More than 90,000 Waukegan community members are already feeling the cumulative impact on our mental and physical health due to multiple sources of pollution. The relaxation of the federal enforcement of environmental regulations is a declaration from the EPA that black and brown environmental justice communities don’t matter,” said Dulce Ortiz, Co-Chair of Clean Power Lake County. “We are living in unprecedented times, where EJ communities need to be protected by stronger regulations and enforcements. Communities like Waukegan and all EJ communities will suffer irreparable consequences as the EPA announces a suspension of enforcement.”
“The EPA’s actions are reprehensible. The agency should be working to address the disproportionate harm faced by communities near polluting facilities, not giving industries a free pass to worsen community impacts. These actions are especially egregious in light of emerging evidence that air pollution exposure may worsen the health impacts of coronavirus. The EPA should be tackling health inequities, not exacerbating them,” said Gretchen Goldman, Research Director, Center for Science and Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientists.
“While we’re pushing for our representatives in DC to correct this wrong, we need local governments to step up and identify ways to maintain current enforcement levels while drastically improving enforcement with community input,” said Eboni Cochran, Co-Director of Rubbertown Emergency ACTion (REACT). “Here in Louisville we’ve adopted the STAR program, which is an air toxics regulatory package more protective than what existed at the federal level. In that same spirit, local governments and communities must lead the way to ensure our families are protected now more than ever.”
"This open license to pollute will hurt all of us but a disproportionate burden will fall on communities of color, low-income families, and those living closest to harmful industrial facilities across this country," said Dr. Yukyan Lam, Staff Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council. “At a time of an unprecedented health crisis, we should be strengthening public health protections, not weakening them. We are evaluating all options under our bedrock environmental laws to protect vulnerable people from this attack.”
“As of March 26 under the order from the White House the US EPA released an “Enforcement Discretion Policy” in essence throwing public safety and chemical security out the door. Workers at the frontline of chemical manufacturing and communities at the Fenceline of exposure are at dire risk because of this callous move. We are living in a time where this blatant approach to dismantle safety measures is unconscionable and borderline criminal,” said Jose T. Bravo, Executive Director of the Just Transition Alliance.
“At a time when refinery workers are still required to work in the midst of a dangerous global pandemic it is appalling that environmental regulations have been thrown overboard. Those environmental regulations are closely related to safety rules and permission to ignore them will lead to decreased safety for both workers and the surrounding community. It is unconscionable for this Administration to use the excuse of a crisis to do the bidding of the Corporations rather than doing what is in the best interest of We The People." said Dave Campbell, Secretary-Treasurer, United Steelworkers Local 675.
“Failure to enforce environmental laws means that people in communities near industrial facilities are likely to face excessive exposure to unsafe levels of air and water pollutants. Depending on the contaminant, these exposures can increase the risk of pre-term birth, birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and premature death, among others. Using a global pandemic as an excuse to relax health-based environmental regulations, further threatening public health and safety, is unconscionable,” said Ted Schettler, MD, MPH and the Science Director at the Science and Environmental Health Network.
“This suspension of enforcement means that our communities are at even greater risk of harm from higher exposures to hazardous chemicals in our air and water. We are already in a public health crisis and this just exacerbates it. Higher chemical exposures can compromise already fragile immune systems. We should be doing all we can to protect people’s health rather than causing more damage by giving industry a free license to pollute our environment,” said Pamela Miller, Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics.
“If anything, now is a time the EPA should be going above and beyond to protect the public from chemical pollution. In particular, unequal access to clean air is already a huge problem; respiratory health of low-income and communities of color is already disproportionately impacted by industry pollution and as a result, these communities are at even greater risk of adverse health impacts from COVID-19. If the EPA follows through with this indefinite suspension, not only will this exacerbate our current public health crisis, the agency is essentially agreeing to forego its duties to protect the environment and public health,” said Amber Garcia, Executive Director at Women’s Voices for the Earth.
“It’s no surprise that this administration, though unable to muster an effective public health response to a pandemic, has no difficulty opening the sluice gates for polluters by announcing that it plans to simply look the other way when industry breaks the law. Filing paperwork late is one thing, but “forgive and forget all” is no way to protect Americans from harmful pollution,” said Robert R. M. Verchick, Board President of the Center for Progressive Reform.
“The Environmental Protection Agency has shamefully suspended enforcing rules on polluters, a move that industries have been urging throughout this crisis,” said Beth Porter, Climate Campaigns Director for Green America. “Now is a time that human and environmental health protection should be increasing for all communities and particularly those which have long been poisoned in the name of profit.”
“Residents of the Kanawha Valley have unfortunately had lots of practice sheltering in place during chemical events. But why allow chemical plants to run at full capacity when demand for products (other than hospital supplies) had softened? Individuals having to self quarantine to avoid the virus or monitor symptoms can lead to staffing problems and increased safety concerns. This is another example of profits over public health and safety,” said Pam Nixon, President of People Concerned About Chemical Safety.
“The announcement to suspend enforcement of environmental laws is counterproductive to the defense against all pathogens harmful to human life. If there was EVER a need for continued if not ramped up oversight and enforcement to protect our land and water this period of pandemic vulnerability would be it! Sick people won’t stand a chance in a sick environment and the healthy will get sick,” said Dr. Gregg Suzanne Ferguson, President of Urbalachian.
“This is yet another end route by the current administration to bolster business at the expense of the people. It is shameful that in the midst of a global pandemic and a rising health crisis in the U.S., that further assurances to protect and safeguard the public’s health generally and that of the workers specifically are being lifted. It is embarrassingly poor judgement. It makes no sense that even in cases of imminent danger that the EPA would not be able to act. West Virginians in particular, already dealing with ‘Fenceline’ issues, have endured a major water contamination crisis, have been the site of fatal environmental incidents and suffer with poor health. This policy is egregious at best and borders on criminal. This policy is being enacted but at what cost and why of all times now?” said Kathy Ferguson, a resident of Institute, WV.
“This proposed suspension of enforcement is yet another strategy where the government is siding with polluting industries against communities of color and indigenous people,” said Larry Lambert, a member of Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice (DCR4EJ). “When did the EPA drop the word “Protection” from its title? This decision is diametrically opposed to the EPA’s own mission statement. People in vulnerable Fenceline communities will die because of this decision.”
“Very much like many of the attempts by EPA to roll us back to the dark ages when environmental justice was not even a thought, this proposed suspension of enforcement is yet another strategy where the government is siding with polluting industries against communities of color and indigenous people. Enforcement is central to achieving environmental justice,” said Dr. Mildred McLain, Executive Director of the Harambee House and Citizens for Environmental Justice.
“The EPA is basically giving the green light to pollute by removing consequences and putting on hold monitoring of corporations during the pandemic. That is like telling teenagers you won’t be watching them and if you see any bad behavior, there won’t be any consequences. This puts those communities that are even more susceptible to harm due to cumulative exposures, like those battling air pollution linked to breathing challenges as well as neurological harm, at possible greater risk to COVID-19. This is simply unacceptable,’ said Tracy Gregoire, Healthy Children Project Coordinator, Learning Disabilities Association of America.
"The coronavirus has brought attention to the 'invisible people' - the farmworkers who harvest our food. Empty grocery store shelves have made the public more aware of the tenuous nature of our food supply and every farmer knows he/she needs workers to produce the food to keep feeding our nation. Relaxing worker protections against pesticide exposure means more threats to the health of agricultural workers, and to all of us. No farmworkers, no food. The people who do some of the most dangerous work in our country deserve the utmost protection by our federal agencies. EPA must take its enforcement authority seriously in these critical times," said Jeannie Economos, Co-Coordinator, Farmworker Association of Florida.
# # #
Available for interviews:
Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator for the Environmental Justice Health Alliance
(802) 251-0203 ext. 706
Richard Moore, National Co-Coordinator for the Environmental Justice Health Alliance
Robert R. M. Verchick, Board President, Center for Progressive Reform
Beth Porter, Climate Campaigns Director for Green America
Todd Larsen, Executive Co-Director for Consumer & Corporate Engagement
Dulce Ortiz, Co-Chair of Clean Power Lake County
Eboni Cochran, Co-Director of Rubbertown Emergency ACTion (REACT)
Gretchen Goldman, research director with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists
Beth Conway, Communications Director, Women’s Voices for the Earth
(406) 543-3747, ext. 230
Jose T. Bravo, Executive Director of the Just Transition Alliance
Pamela Miller, Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics
Larry Lambert, member of the Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice (DCR4EJ)
Jake Thompson, Natural Resources Defense Council
“Life at the Fenceline: Understanding Cumulative Health Hazards in Environmental Justice Communities”
“Who’s In Danger: Race, Poverty and Chemical Disasters”
“Watered Down Justice”