Despite EPA decision, Virginia says polluters must ‘make every effort’ to comply with environmental regulations

Despite EPA decision, Virginia says polluters must ‘make every effort’ to comply with environmental regulations
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia will not relax its enforcement of environmental regulations despite an announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week that it won’t impose civil penalties on polluting facilities that don’t comply with routine monitoring and reporting obligations during the coronavirus pandemic.

“All regulated entities are expected to make every effort to comply with environmental compliance obligations, adhere to permit limits and maintain the safe and environmentally protective operation of their facilities,” said Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor in a news release Tuesday.

As the new form of coronavirus, which can cause a deadly illness known as COVID-19, continues to spread throughout the nation, many infrastructure and industrial facilities, from wastewater treatment and utility plants to manufacturing concerns, have expressed concerns about their ability to meet environmental requirements in the face of reduced workforces and social distancing guidelines.

In his agency’s Tuesday statement, Paylor said that “DEQ staff will consider non-compliance issues resulting from COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis, but by no means does this crisis equal a free pass for the regulated community.”

The temporary policy put in place by EPA’s March 26 decision allows facilities to forgo “routine activities” such as monitoring, sampling, laboratory analysis, training and reporting requirements if they are “not reasonably practicable due to COVID-19.”

In a statement to the Associated Press, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the new approach was “designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment.”

The policy sparked a backlash from environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others.

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