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COVID-19 and the EPA's Response

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, pollution of the Earth has seemingly lessened with the water of the Venice canals in Italy reportedly becoming more clear and abundant with fish, and a reduction of air pollution in California. Importantly, however, these environmental improvements aren't without the cost of human health as countries around the world continue to battle to treat the ill and preserve the health of others. In the wake of COVID-19, many of our societal systems, such as the healthcare system, have been drastically affected, and the Environmental Protection Agency is one of these essential cogs.

Photo by @michael75 from Unsplash In a memorandum released from EPA assistant administrator Susan Bodine, on March 26, 2020, the Federal agency announced that many American industries will no longer be held to as stringent environmental standards as once expected. In fact, the agency outlines a relinquishing of federal jurisdiction, placing the burden of regulation on state agencies and companies themselves. Specific entities such as factories are expected to "make every effort to comply with their environmental compliance regulations."

The memo also stated that should compliance with such standards be unattainable as a direct result of COVID-19, companies are expected to act "responsibly" to minimize the effects of this departure from expectations and are further mandated to self-report these digressions. Crucially, the agency added that because the pandemic is likely to inhibit "monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification," punitive action based on transgressions resulting from COVID-19 will not be carried out. The measure went into effect on March 13, 2020, and is presumably expected to last throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the duration of this rollback remains yet to be specified as the length of the pandemic, and when a return to 'normal life' is advisable, remains undetermined

The agency cited concern for the safety of the public as well as staff members of the EPA "and those of Federal Agencies, State and Local Governments, Tribes, Regulated Entities, Contractors, and Nongovernmental Organizations." It also cautioned states in their response to environmental regulations during this time as well, reminding them to be conscientious of the effects of perceived worker shortages and travel restrictions in light of the pandemic. 

Ygor Lobo Ygor Lobo / Unsplash Many environmental groups have raised concerns about the effects that these measures will have, arguing that, in recovering from this pandemic, the world could be made a more environmentally conscious place. Greenpeace has extensively advocated for a #GreenCovidResponse expressing their dissatisfaction with "coronavirus recovery plans that only allow us to survive." The organization advocated for a response to the pandemic that will "direct relief funds towards clean transformative industries like renewable energy, regenerative farming, and electric transport," claiming that such a move would "set in place a greener, healthier and more resilient economy that puts people and planet first." Greenpeace also argued the importance of environmental health during the grip of COVID-19, claiming that "healthy people make a healthy environment," and that "a healthy ecosystem helps protect us from disease,"

The long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have yet to be seen, but undoubtedly the steps we take now have the potential to have long-lasting impacts on our society and the health of our planet.