Virginia environmental officials said they will continue to enforce the state’s environmental protection rules, though they might provide some leeway for noncompliance that is directly caused by COVID-19.
The announcement comes days after the federal Environmental Protection Agency said it “does not expect to seek penalties” for violations for routine monitoring and reporting duties by power plants, factories and other entities, when they are the result of COVID-19.
The EPA said it would focus its resources on “acute risk or imminent threat to public health or the environment,” but encouraged companies to comply if they can.
The federal agency said states are free to continue to enforce their own rules.
Like the federal government, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor said the state would consider COVID-19 when enforcing state rules. But, Paylor said, the state would not adopt the EPA’s stance of preemptively backing away from penalties.
“By no means does this crisis equal a free pass for the regulated community,” Paylor said.
“DEQ will review noncompliance issues on a case-by-case basis and exercise enforcement discretion as appropriate.”
On Twitter, the state’s secretary of natural resources, Matthew Strickler, blasted the EPA’s announcement as egregious.
“It is wrong to use the cover of a national emergency to push through damaging and divisive policies while you think nobody is looking,” Strickler said.
Nate Benforado with the Southern Environmental Law Center said the group is “glad to see Secretary Strickler opposing this EPA announcement and encouraged that DEQ is expecting facilities to comply with the law.”
“Obviously we are living through an unprecedented time, and specific exceptions may need to be made based on specific circumstances,” he said.
“But the EPA announcement unnecessarily threw the door open to pollution without accountability. We hope DEQ follows through with its plan and only grants exceptions where absolutely necessary.”