Environmental regulators across the country granted more than 3,000 requests from polluting oil and gas operations, government facilities, chemical plants, and other facilities to stop pollution monitoring and other procedures intended to protect human health and the environment, an expansive two-month AP investigation revealed.
The Trump administration, under pressure from the oil and gas industry, allowed for the exemptions in late March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s like saying, ‘We’re going to remove the radar guns and remove speedometers, but you still have to comply with the speed limit,'” said Eric Schaeffer, now head of the Environmental Integrity Project advocacy group. “That doesn’t make sense.”
While EPA claims the monitoring waivers do not constitute a license to pollute at will, without effective monitoring there is no way to know.
As a whole, the skipped leak inspections could be endangering oil and gas workers and allowing thousands of tons of greenhouse pollution to be emitted into the atmosphere, a former oil and gas engineer told the AP.
The investigation’s findings run counter to statements made by the EPA in June that the coronavirus was not impacting compliance and monitoring, and that the industry was not seeking relief.
In fact, the industry actors aggressively sought and were granted exemptions, as early as March, to skip inspections of smokestacks, tank seals, flare stacks, and emissions monitoring systems, which could raise the risk of explosions.
“As surely as night follows day there are going to be an increased number of deaths from those causes,” Philip J. Landrigan, director of the Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College, told the AP.
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