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Trump-Connected Fossil Fuel Companies Permitted to Delay Payments of $56 Million in Pollution Fines During Pandemic

"People are struggling to find rent money for next month, but thank god the Trump administration is providing relief for the millions these poor, vulnerable corporate polluters owe."

The Sherburne County (Sherco) Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant owned by Xcel Energy and located in Becker, Minnesota, shown in 2016. (Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr/cc)

Corporations with close ties to Trump administration officials are among 10 companies being permitted to delay payments of millions of dollars in fines for pollution they caused, according to The Guardian and government watchdog Accountable.US.

The companies had agreed to pay a collective total of $56 million in civil penalties for contributing to pollution in communities across the country, but they were informed in April by the Department of Justice that they can pause their payments during the pandemic.

"When we're facing a public health crisis that causes respiratory problems, this is a time to be holding companies to a higher standard of air quality, not a lower one."
—Chris Saeger, Accountable.US

Ironically, said Accountable.US, which uncovered the arrangement through a FOIA request, the corporations are being granted leniency for contributing to the kinds of pollution which can make the coronavirus more deadly. 

"This is exactly the time to make sure support is flowing to the federal, state, and local governments that need a hand with responding to the coronavirus crisis and with the environmental problems that these special interests have caused," Chris Saeger of Accountable.US told The Guardian. "When we're facing a public health crisis that causes respiratory problems, this is a time to be holding companies to a higher standard of air quality, not a lower one."

As Common Dreams reported, researchers at Harvard University last month found that people living in counties with high levels of harmful particulate matter are 15% more likely to die if they contract Covid-19.

The companies which have been granted an enforcement holiday include:

  • K.P. Kauffman, a Denver-based oil company which owes the government $1 million for contributing to smog in the area;
  • Dominion Energy, which owes $1.4 million for allowing coal ash to seep into groundwater in Virginia, threatening the population with contamination from mercury, cadmium, and arsenic; and
  • ArcelorMittal, which owes $5 million for air quality violations.

ArcelorMittal, where Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was previously a board member, told Accountable.US that it already paid the fine despite being offered the extension. Attorney General William Barr was a board member at Dominion Energy before joining the Trump administration, and was paid $500,000 by the corporation. 

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Kevin Kauffman, CEO of K.P. Kauffman, has been a major donor to President Donald Trump, and his company spent $200,000 lobbying the EPA last year. 

"Just because these companies have extensive influence in the Trump administration does not mean they should be let off the hook for the damage they've caused our environment," said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US.

The fee payment dealy offer for fossil fuel companies follows reports that the Trump administration is allowing oil and gas corporations operating on public lands to set their own royalty rates, taking funding away from public services in several Western states.

Meanwhile, Wes Gobar of Evergreen Action noted, people across the U.S. are facing unemployment and housing insecurity, with the Republican Party and the White House showing little interest in securing relief for them.

"The Trump administration is working harder for well-connected corporate polluters than it is for small businesses and millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic and economic crisis," said Herrig.

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