Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2020
By Christine Manwiller
In March 2020, the US Environmental Protection Agency suspended its enforcement of certain environmental laws, citing coronavirus risks. “EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes [that] challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from Covid-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a press release. The onging rule suspension allows regulated industry to break EPA rules and regulations, if the violations can be linked to Covid-19. There was no end date set for the pollution holiday.
The move allows increases in air and water pollution, improper handling of fracking wastewater, and suspension of industrial reporting of greenhouse gas emissions. Former EPA officials were stunned, and predicted catastrophic consequences. Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council and former EPA Administrator, said, “This is an open license to pollute. The administration should be giving its all toward making our country healthier right now. Instead it is taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to do favors for polluters that threaten public health.”
Last January Mr. Trump signed a repeal of water protections that had limited the pollution of drinking water sources for about one third of the country. Trump’s repeal allows farm and industrial wastes to pollute millions of miles of streams and about half of US wetlands.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission also issued risky pandemic rules that raise work-week caps from 72 to 84 hours, and pause reactor inspections for 18 months. Reactor refueling will continue uninterrupted, although some workers travel to small communities, potentially spreading Covid-19 infections. Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps called the action dangerous. “How inspections, repairs and replacements of safety-significant systems can go undone and not increase risk, has not been adequately explained by the NRC.”