On Earth Day, Oversight Democrats Seek Answers on EPA’s Decision to Stop Enforcing Environmental Laws Amid Public Health Crisis

Apr 22, 2020
Press Release
Dems Sound Alarm on Impact of Increased Pollution on Coronavirus Mortality

Washington, D.C. (Apr. 22, 2020)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Harley Rouda, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, led Oversight Committee Democrats in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting a briefing and documents regarding its unprecedented decision to suspend enforcement of environmental laws during the coronavirus pandemic.


“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, our planet faces a rapidly changing climate that is a grave threat to all Americans and to people around the globe,” the Members wrote.   “Strong science-based leadership and environmental action by the federal government is needed now more than ever.  However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to be abandoning this critical responsibility.”


On March 26, 2020, EPA announced it was suspending enforcement of environmental laws during the coronavirus pandemic.  Five days later, EPA and the Department of Transportation announced a rollback of Obama-era clean car standards, with a recent draft establishing a new standard that would “lead to nearly a billion more tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide released and the consumption of about 80 billion more gallons of gasoline over the lifetime of the vehicles built during the terms of the rule.” 


This suspension of enforcement actions likely will result in increased greenhouse gas emissions and particulate pollution, which can lead to lung inflammation and decreased lung capacity and functionality.  Increased exposure can also lead to an increasing number of emergency room visits and hospitalizations for asthma and a higher overall risk of mortality.  The health conditions caused by pollution also include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and hypertension, each of which may result in comorbidities that increase the mortality rates of people infected with the coronavirus.


“While we understand the vast financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. economy, the ongoing health crisis is not an excuse to allow greater levels of harmful pollution and the resulting health risks,” the Committee Members wrote.  “EPA’s unprecedented enforcement suspension was unnecessary because the agency already has the discretion to waive penalties in cases of hardship.   We urge the EPA to reverse this misguided and harmful decision that puts the lives of Americans at risk.”


The Committee’s letter requests a briefing on the changes to the EPA’s enforcement actions by May 1, 2020, and documents and communications regarding outside industry’s influence on the changes by May 6, 2020.


Read the full letter here.

116th Congress