The Misleading ‘Rollback’ Narrative on COVID-19 Compliance
Posted April 2, 2020
The health and safety of workers, communities and the environment is always a priority for the natural gas and oil industry, and never more so during a global pandemic. That’s why API requested temporary relief for non-essential compliance requirements from the White House and several federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Sadly, reasonable efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) among the energy workforce have been misconstrued by some as “regulatory rollbacks.” This blatantly political narrative is misleading, not to mention inconsistent with public health recommendations. As businesses and regulators adapt to changing circumstances – and implement physical distancing and stay-at-home policies – there may be limited personnel to manage the full scope of some non-essential requirements, but the commitment to safety and sustainability remains unchanged.
To be clear, the industry is not seeking a regulatory rollback or trying to excuse itself from compliance obligations, and the EPA’s updated policy on legal enforcement is a necessary response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a misconception that pollution control equipment can be switched on and off, but this isn’t the case. In fact, the equipment operates normally as our industry continues to follow federal and state requirements.
The temporary waivers reflect the reality of the situation at natural gas and oil facilities, where routine inspections, administrative reporting and training provisions might conflict with federal and state health guidelines.
This week, EPA spokeswoman Amy Dewey clarified:
“The policy says that EPA will not seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting requirements, if, on a case-by-case basis, EPA agrees that such noncompliance was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic…The policy does not say that the COVID-19 pandemic will excuse exceedances of pollutant limitations in permits, regulations, and statutes.”
U.S. energy operators are still expected to comply with regulatory obligations, and the EPA will consider public health limitations when determining environmental legal enforcement. Like every other sector, the natural gas and oil industry is urging employees to stay home when possible, as this policy helps protect workers and federal officials who might ordinarily be traveling to worksites.
Importantly, this policy is a temporary response to emergency conditions caused by COVID-19, and not a far-reaching waiver of environmental requirements. It is intended to protect the health and safety of the employees working tirelessly to power our lights, heat our homes and fuel our vehicles during this difficult time. America’s natural gas and oil operators remain committed to protecting the health and safety of workers and their communities – and mitigating the risks of climate change – with advanced technologies, state-of-the-art standards and ever-cleaner fuels.
Reporting flexibility allows the industry to adhere to CDC guidelines and state-by-state directives to slow the spread of COVID-19, while appropriately managing the nation's fuel supply system.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler reiterated these points today in a letter to Congress:
“EPA’s enforcement authority and responsibility remains active. This is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. We will continue to work with federal, state and tribal partners to ensure that facilities are meeting regulatory requirements, while taking appropriate steps to protect the health of our staff and the public.”
The natural gas and oil industry is reliable and resilient, and despite the difficult circumstances, energy companies are prioritizing safety and sustainability. At the advice of public health experts, and with the support of government agencies, the industry is championing efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 while meeting the nation’s essential energy needs.
For more federal, state and industry-specific pandemic resources, see here.
About The Author
Sam Winstel is a writer for the American Petroleum Institute. He comes to API from Edelman, where he supported communications marketing strategies for clients across the firm’s energy and federal government practices. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Sam graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina, and he currently resides in Washington, D.C.
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