Op-Ed: Relaxation of Environmental Standards Makes A Bad Situation Worse

by | Apr 28, 2020 | OPINION

Not only does relaxation of EPA rules about pollution harm the environment, it increases risk factors for COVID-19, writes Kaylin Cecchini.

Often in times of crisis, whether they be political, professional, or personal, some components of ordinary operation get thrown out to adapt to the new and unstable circumstances. Usually this is in an effort to efficiently manage the emergency towards a more favorable outcome. However, amidst the current global pandemic, the Trump administration has decided that environmental regulations will be one of the components to go. This is a disconcerting decision, because we are actually faced with two global crises at the moment: COVID-19 and climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created air, water, and hazardous waste reporting requirements to protect us from pollution that is detrimental both to human health and the environment. At the request of many businesses, though, the top compliance official in the EPA has decided to relax these regulations. Going forward, no punishment or fine will be issued for noncompliance with the previously enforced regulations, and this will remain the case for a period of time left unspecified by officials.

Fighting our climate crisis remains a critical priority, and failing to uphold some of our most aggressive measures to do so is particularly dangerous during this global health crisis. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and air pollution exacerbates asthma, breathing difficulty, and cardiovascular problems. This can result in a larger susceptible population, and fewer favorable outcomes for those within it. Allowing free rein to pollute water sources can compound the effects of resource scarcity by harming crop production. It is already too difficult, especially for our most vulnerable communities, to access the food and water necessary to sustain themselves through this crisis.

There is not a person, family, or business that does not desperately need some form of flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, greenlighting pollution does nothing to help combat this public health crisis. In this unprecedented and frankly unwarranted decision, the Trump administration is asking companies to exhibit personal responsibility and restraint. Since we know that 100 international corporations are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions, we have evidence that many multinational companies will operate on profit maximization rather than principles of environmental justice. So what can we do?

Photo by Thijs Stoop on Unsplash

We can look to history for inspiration from the leaders who originally fought for environmental reform. In the 1960’s and 70’s, a culmination of events kickstarted the environmental movement. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact beginning, but each of the early events had something very important in common: they were grassroots efforts that called for change and oversight from the federal government.  Their activism led to the very regulations currently being rolled back by the Trump Administration. Their legacy and the protection it provides all of us is what we now must fight to maintain. 

Here in the Commonwealth, we have the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) which enforces federal and state environmental regulations. As private individuals may utilize this agency to the public benefit all the time by joining a citizen board, signing petitions demanding further action, or making recommendations to state officials regarding regulations, it is a particularly valuable resource in a time like this. On their website, they have a Virginia Regulatory Town Hall with public forums for comments, suggestions, and any input you might deem necessary. This is a great place to start. 

We can’t gather in the streets or form protests like our predecessors did, given the necessity of social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean we are powerless. We can start social media campaigns. We can call our elected representatives. We can tell our neighbors and friends. We can call on VDEQ to mandate compliance with the previously instituted reporting regulations, at least within our state.

In both of these crises our top concern must be to protect public health. The only difference between them is what is endangering our health. Many of us have been at home with little to do, and with Governor Northam’s stay-at-home executive order in effect until June 10, many more of us will be in the same position. We can be part of the solution, for both COVID-19 and climate change simultaneously, by staying at home and using our time there to demand responsible environmental policy and compliance in our state. As for our federal issues, we can gear up for the fight in November to play a role in voting out every official who failed to prioritize our health and safety, including the President.

Note: Op-Eds are contributions from guest writers and do not reflect editorial policy.

Top Photo by Ella Ivanescu on Unsplash

Kaylin Cecchini

Kaylin Cecchini

Kaylin Cecchini is a VCU senior studying Political Science and Philosophy. She serves as a student advocate and is as President of two organizations: VCU Young Democrats and Pi Sigma Alpha. Her passions include good governance, effective and intersectional policy, and sustainable urban planning.

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