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Tracker: Weakened Environmental Laws and Policies in Response to COVID-19

The Institute for Policy Integrity is tracking the suspension and altered enforcement of environmental laws and policies by federal, state, and city agencies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In connection with the crisis, several agencies have issued waivers or announced plans to stop enforcing key environmental laws and regulations. The three tables below track such actions by federal agencies, states, and select large cities. 

Separately, the Trump administration has continued to pursue several controversial policy priorities even in the face of the crisis, for example by weakening public health protections in its rollback of automobile emission standards, holding non-competitive auctions for oil & gas leases, and denying requests to extend public comment periods in regulatory proceedings. But this tracker focuses only on actions directly connected to the pandemic rather than instances where the administration has continued to pursue its policy priorities while the nation addresses the public health crisis.

This tracker currently includes 22 federal actions, 44 state actions, and municipal actions. Last updated September 25, 2020.

This tracker includes all relevant examples of which we are aware and is continually updated. For questions or to submit updates, contact Iliana.Paul@nyu.edu.

Policy Integrity has found many other trackers helpful in this work, including Brookings' Tracking Deregulation in the Trump era, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards Pandemic Rollback tracker, and the Hardvard Environmental & Energy Law Program Regulatory Rollback Tracker.​​

  • Federal Agency
    Action
    Status
    Date
  • Department of Interior

    Reduce royalty payments for some oil and gas producers
    DOI will use existing law to grant individual requests from oil and gas producers to reduce royalty payments, and promised to process requests within five days. Operators may set their own reduced rates. Reductions apply for sixty days and may be extended. Media coverage here.

    Finalized
    Apr 21, 2020
  • Department of Interior

    Suspend leases for some oil and gas producers
    DOI will use existing law to grant individual requests from oil and gas producers to suspend leases, and promised to process requests within five days. Suspensions apply for sixty days and may be extended. Media coverage here.

    Finalized
    Apr 21, 2020
  • Department of Justice

    Offer blanket relief on consent decree payments to industry
    The Environment and Natural Resources Division at DOJ originally paused collection of any payments due from industry pursuant to consent decrees until May, but then extended the amnesty until August. Media coverage here.

    Finalized
    Apr 14, 2020
  • Environmental Protection Agency

    Reduce monitoring and enforcement of pollution rules
    From March 13 to August 31, 2020, companies that are typically required to report to EPA when they discharge a certain level of air or water pollution will monitor themselves. EPA announced the policy's end date on June 29, 2020. Media coverage here.

    No Longer in Effect
    Mar 26, 2020
  • Environmental Protection Agency

    Defer gasoline & biofuel blending requirements
    EPA will postpone or waive deadlines for oil refiners, water utilities, and other industries to switch to cleaner-burning summer-grade gasoline. Media coverage here.

    Finalized
    Mar 27, 2020
  • Environmental Protection Agency

    Reduce and suspend fieldwork on case-by-case basis
    EPA will reduce or pause clean-up work at Superfund sites and other program locations where continuing to work might endanger health and safety. Work at thirty-four sites was reduced or suspended by April 10, 2020. Media coverage here.

    Finalized
    Apr 10, 2020
  • Environmental Protection Agency

    Permit disinfectant manufacturers to change suppliers & ingredients without EPA approval
    Disinfectant manufacturers are no longer required to receive EPA approval for changes to certain ingredient suppliers or for changes to ingredients. Media coverage here.
     

    Finalized
    Apr 14, 2020
  • Environmental Protection Agency

    Waive quality controls for systems that monitor air pollution
    EPA will waive requirements that assure the quality of continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS) used to track air pollution from industrial facilities. Media coverage here.

    Finalized
    Apr 22, 2020
  • Environmental Protection Agency

    Permit stores to sell wood-fired heating systems that do not meet emissions standards
    EPA has proposed extending the deadline for retailers to stop selling stoves and other wood-fired heating systems that fail to meet new emissions standards until the end of November. Retailers had five years to sell off non-compliant inventory before the current May 15th compliance deadline. Media coverage here.

    Proposed
    May 22, 2020
  • Environmental Protection Agency

    Reduce and delay payment of settlement payments
    According to media reports, EPA issued an internal memo allowing companies that have lost 25% of profits due to the coronavirus to reduce settlement payments, delay payments by a renewable 60 day period, or pay in installments over an additional three year period. Media coverage here.

    Finalized
    May 26, 2020
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

    Defer enforcement activities
    FERC will defer enforcement activities for regulatory violations, including conducting no audits until after July 31 and limiting surveillance inquiries to behavior that poses a significant risk of harm to the market. Media coverage here.

    Finalized
    Apr 2, 2020
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

    Provide temporary extensions & waivers for pipeline operators
    Pipeline operators can request extensions & temporary waivers for certain regulations, including cost-of-service filing, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements. Operators can also request a waiver for tariffs to become effective on less than 30 days’ notice.

    Finalized
    May 8, 2020
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    Waive observer requirement on boats
    NOAA will waive the requirement for observers and at-sea monitors for fishing boats on a case-by-case basis. On September 21, 2020, the measure to waive the observer requirement was extended through March 26, 2021. From March 30 to August 14, 2020, NOAA also waived observer requirements for all boats in the Northeast. Media coverage here.

     

    Finalized
    Mar 24, 2020
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    Defer maintenance and inspections of nuclear plants
    Nuclear plants would be able to delay required maintenance and inspection.

    Proposed
    Mar 24, 2020
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    Permit longer worker shifts
    Workers will be allowed to work longer than permitted under current regulations. Media coverage here.

    Finalized
    Mar 28, 2020
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    Defer annual licensing payments for nuclear plants
    NRC will permit nuclear operators with annual licensing payments due in April through June to pay by July 22nd. Media coverage here.

    Finalized
    Apr 10, 2020
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    Defer safety reporting due to hardship
    NRC will allow licensees to defer submitting the Owner's Activity Report after a refueling outage if the licensee demonstrates a hardship without a compensating increase in the level of quality and safety as an alternative.

    Finalized
    Apr 9, 2020
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    Exemptions from operator requalification requirements
    NRC will consider exemptions for requalification requirements for licensees for up to two years including: (1) requalification program scheduling, (2) licensed operator active status for research and test reactors (RTRs), and (3) delays in completion of biennial medical examinations of licensed operators and senior operators.

    Finalized
    Apr 14, 2020
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission

    Exemptions from licensing requirements
    Licensees may request expedited review of licensing requirement exemptions related to (1) on-the-job training, (2) medical examinations for annual physical requalification, (3) tactical response and licensee-conducted force-on-force exercises, (4) annual requalification, (5) weapons range activities, (6) firearm instructor and armorer certifications, and (7) semiannual test firing.

    Finalized
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

    Prioritize safety-sensitive inspections
    PHMSA will only conduct “safety-sensitive” inspections of pipeline infrastructure.

    Finalized
    Mar 19, 2020
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

    Waive enforcement of shift length limitations
    PHMSA will not enforce limitations on how long employees can work in areas like control rooms.

    Finalized
    Mar 20, 2020
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration

    Delay enforcement of compliance deadlines for new rule
    PHMSA will not penalize pipeline operators for failing to comply "for reasons attributable to the National Emergency" with July 1, 2020 compliance deadlines in a new pipeline safety rule. Operators eligible for delayed enforcement will have until December 31, 2020 to comply with the relevant record-keeping and transmission line assessment requirements.

    Finalized
    Apr 22, 2020