Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

President Donald Trump looks on as EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 9, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

'Holy Crap This Is Insane': Citing Coronavirus Pandemic, EPA Indefinitely Suspends Environmental Rules

"The EPA uses this global pandemic to create loopholes for destroying the environment. This is a schoolbook example for what we need to start looking out for."

Jake Johnson

The Environmental Protection Agency, headed by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, announced on Thursday a sweeping and indefinite suspension of environmental rules amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic, a move green groups warned gives the fossil fuel industry a "green light to pollute with impunity."

Under the new policy (pdf), which the EPA insisted is temporary while providing no timeframe, big polluters will effectively be trusted to regulate themselves and will not be punished for failing to comply with reporting rules and other requirements. The order—applied retroactively beginning March 13, 2020—requests that companies "act responsibly" to avoid violations.

"Outrageous. Suspending all environmental regulations indefinitely? This has nothing to do with coronavirus. This has everything to do with protecting Big Business."
—Rep. Mark Pocan

"EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes 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," Wheeler said in a statement. "This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment."

Critics, such as youth climate leader Greta Thunberg, accused the Trump administration of exploiting the coronavirus crisis to advance its longstanding goal of drastically rolling back environmental protections.

"The EPA uses this global pandemic to create loopholes for destroying the environment," tweeted Thunberg. "This is a schoolbook example for what we need to start looking out for."

Cynthia Giles, former head of the EPA's Office of Enforcement under the Obama administration, told The Hill that the new policy is "essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future."

"It tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way 'caused' by the virus pandemic," said Giles. "And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was."

The EPA's order, for which the oil industry aggressively lobbied, represents the latest effort by the Trump administration to usethe coronavirus pandemic to advance right-wing policies that would likely not be permitted—or would at least face greater scrutiny—under normal circumstances.

As Common Dreams reported last week, the White House is advancing an assault on public-sector unions, xenophobic border policies, and other objectives amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has officially infected more than 85,000 people in the United States as of Friday morning.

"Outrageous," tweeted Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in response to the EPA's new policy. "Suspending all environmental regulations indefinitely? This has nothing to do with coronavirus. This has everything to do with protecting Big Business."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Biden's Student Debt Relief to Cost a Fraction of US Giveaways to the Megarich and Pentagon

"In contrast to President Trump and Republicans who gave giant corporations $2 trillion in tax breaks, President Biden delivered transformative middle-class relief," said two senators.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Climate Change Is the Asteroid,' Say Critics of NASA Earth Defense Mission

"The actual clear and present danger to humanity is of course Earth breakdown from burning fossil fuels," said one NASA climate scientist.

Brett Wilkins ·


After Nearly a Decade in Exile, Snowden Granted Russian Citizenship

While the whistleblower said "a little stability" would benefit his family, one digital rights advocate noted that "if the Biden administration dropped the charges against Snowden, Putin wouldn't be able to use him for a PR stunt."

Jessica Corbett ·


Peace Group Urges US and China to Halt 'Blatantly Provocative' Military Maneuvers

The co-chairs of the Committee for a SANE U.S.-China Policy called on American and Chinese leaders to "immediately take unilateral and bilateral steps to reduce the risk of an accidental or unintended clash."

Brett Wilkins ·


In 'Unprecedented Democratic Exercise,' Cubans Approve Inclusive Family Code

"This is a milestone in the advancement of democracy," said global grassroots coalition Progressive International. "Nowhere in the world has a family law been submitted for public consultation and subject to a referendum."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo