April 06, 2020

Warren and Markey Demand Answers from Trump Administration on Rollback of Environmental Safeguards During COVID-19 Pandemic

EPA Has Suspended Enforcement of Existing Clean Air, Clean Water, and Climate Rules and Used Outbreak as Cover to Continue Weakening Environmental Protections

"In the midst of a respiratory disease outbreak, rolling back environmental safeguards, particularly those that protect clean air and reduce lung disease and asthma, is highly dangerous and irresponsible."

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Friday regarding the Trump administration's ongoing efforts to roll back environmental safeguards during the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The senators' letter was sent after the EPA issued guidance that effectively suspends enforcement of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other environmental laws during the ongoing crisis.

"It is disturbing that the administration would use this global public health crisis as cover to weaken regulations that protect our nation's air, water, lands, climate, and public health," Senators Warren and Markey wrote. "There is no justification for these actions; you should not be using the COVID-19 pandemic, which is expected to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths in this country, as an excuse to undermine environmental regulations and impose a broad, across-the-board moratorium on environmental enforcement."

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reports indicate that the EPA has implemented a broad environmental enforcement moratorium that would allow "power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution." In addition to adopting this compliance moratorium, the Trump administration has also undermined important climate change regulations, recently finalizing the repeal of the Obama-era Clean Car Rule, an action that experts have warned could further undermine public health during the crisis by contributing to more premature deaths from lung and respiratory illnesses.

In their letter, the senators criticized the Trump administration for using the COVID-19 crisis to advance its environmental deregulatory agenda, even as weakening these protections may put more communities at risk from environmental health hazards. The senators expressed particular alarm with the administration's efforts to weaken clean air standards during a major respiratory pandemic.

"In the midst of a respiratory disease outbreak, rolling back environmental safeguards, particularly those that protect clean air and reduce lung disease and asthma, is highly dangerous and irresponsible," the senators continued. "I am deeply troubled by your actions, and I urge you to take immediate steps to end the enforcement moratorium and stop your efforts to undermine environmental regulations during the COVID-19 crisis."

To address their concerns, Senators Warren and Markey asked Administrator Wheeler to explain the agency's rationale for suspending enforcement of environmental laws during a public health crisis; how the agency plans to continue to protect public health without strong enforcement; whether there was undue influence by the fossil fuel industry; and how the weakening of enforcement will affect environmental justice and other concerns. The senators requested a response to their letter by Friday, April 17, 2020.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Senator Warren has pressed the Trump administration to respond effectively to deliver the robust set of resources needed to address this emergency. She recently unveiled detailed plans to increase diagnostic testing nationwide, and sounded the alarm alongside Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) over the Trump administration's failure to deliver federal support for testing and care in Massachusetts. Earlier this month, she put out a plan for getting relief directly to workers, families, and small businesses, and has fought to prioritize federal aid for keeping workers on payroll and helping hospitals, states and localities respond to the crisis -- before bailing out giant corporations.