Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Andrew Wheeler will be questioned by members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today about rolling back environmental regulations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Unsafe rollbacks

As Electrek reported in March, the EPA announced a suspension of the enforcement of environmental rules, saying it “will generally not seek stipulated or other penalties for noncompliance with such obligations” during the coronavirus outbreak.

On April 3, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to Wheeler, demanding that the agency explain its decision to suspend environmental rules; who authorized it; how records will be maintained; whether meetings were held with fossil-fuel lobbyists, and if so, when and with who; and finally, whether any analyses were conducted.

As Electrek also reported, a Harvard University study at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, updated on April 5, confirmed a direct correlation between long-term exposure to air pollution and a higher coronavirus death rate.

Further, on April 14, the EPA announced that it will not work to lower levels of particulate matter, thus not further reducing air pollution, despite the recommendations of its own scientists to do so.

As Roll Call reports today:

Last week, nine state attorneys general sued the EPA for issuing what they called a ‘broad, open-ended policy,’ referring to the agency’s March 26 decision to allow companies to determine for themselves if they can meet reporting requirements for air and water pollution during the crisis.

On April 1, ranking member Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), and 10 other Democratic senators raised concerns about agency activities during and in response to the pandemic, including its lack of a public continuity of operations plan and easing enforcement of air and water pollution rules.

Vijay Limaye, science fellow in the Science Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said today:

At a time when our government should be doing all it can to protect us from the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA actually has been rolling back critical public health safeguards in a way that will increase our exposure to mercury, soot, toxic chemicals, super-polluting HFCs, and perchlorate. Lawmakers must hold Wheeler accountable for these indefensible actions that are making us sick.

Electrek’s Take

It’s about time that Wheeler answers for his actions. Do we expect straight answers from him? No. The most we can hope for is that the Senate hold the EPA accountable, and somehow, there is a reversal of these polluting deregulations that endanger people’s lives even further in the midst of a pandemic that attacks people’s lungs and other vital organs.

As the Environmental Protection Network pointed out, “African Americans are 75% more likely to reside in communities that are near polluting facilities — and face a 54% higher health burden as a result of air pollution, compared with the general population. Similarly, Latino communities are disproportionately affected, with almost 2 million Latinos living within a half-mile of polluting facilities.”

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