EPA Failed to Consider Impacts on Imperiled Species
Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today over the Environmental Protection Agency’s suspension of pollution monitoring and reporting requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today’s lawsuit says the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to consider harms and risks to imperiled species when the agency allowed polluters to forego compliance with key environmental laws.
“COVID-19 doesn’t give the EPA the right to just shrug off the duty to ensure its actions won’t jeopardize imperiled animals and plants,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Clean air and clean water are critical to people and wildlife, yet the Trump administration is doing everything it can to give polluters free rein. We can’t allow regulators to undermine environmental laws and ignore the consequences.”
The EPA’s policy, set forth in a March 26 memorandum, suspends monitoring, reporting and enforcement under several environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Emergency Planning and Community Right‐to‐Know Act. The policy gives polluting industries total discretion to determine whether they will comply with monitoring and reporting requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hundreds of polluters have taken advantage of the policy, including chemical manufacturers and wastewater-treatment plants that may affect endangered species such as Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon. Yet the EPA has failed to take any action to ensure this unchecked pollution has not, and will not, harm imperiled species and their habitat, as the Endangered Species Act requires. Studies definitively establish that when environmental laws are not enforced, pollution invariably increases—to the detriment of people and wildlife dependent on clean water and air.
“EPA’s non-enforcement policy is a total abdication of its mission to protect human health and the environment,” said Daniel E. Estrin, Waterkeeper Alliance’s general counsel and advocacy director. “Without enforcement of our federal environmental laws, there will be increased levels of pollution in our water, air, and land. Our imperiled species will pay an enormous price for EPA’s failures and will be put on the fast track to extinction.”
Today’s lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Riverkeeper in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The groups are represented by the Center and the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic.
The suit asserts that the agency violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to even initiate “emergency consultation” procedures with the wildlife agencies to ensure that actions are taken to minimize the effects of any emergency response to COVID-19. That process requires the EPA to contact the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to discuss ways to mitigate impacts during an emergency, and then to undertake a full consultation once the emergency is over.
The suit further states that EPA never contacted the wildlife agencies to even discuss the suspension of monitoring and reporting requirements and has failed to undertake any action to protect critically imperiled species from unchecked pollution.
“The Hudson River’s shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon are endangered and continue to endure the brunt of pollution, overfishing and habitat loss,” said Hudson Riverkeeper Paul Gallay. “EPA’s decision not to enforce our environmental laws further jeopardizes the chance of recovery for these two ancient species. The pandemic is no excuse for the Trump Administration to abdicate its duty to protect our environment.”
Although the EPA has stated that it will end the non-enforcement policy later this month, nothing prevents it from continuing to rely on the pandemic as a justification for keeping it in place indefinitely. Even if the policy is withdrawn, the agency is required by law to address and mitigate the damage done to endangered and threatened species while the policy has been in effect.
*Photo: Atlantic Sturgeon by NOAA