Regulated industry has been expressing significant concern about disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and seeking assurance from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the extraordinary circumstances across the United States would be taken into account in the event of any unanticipated noncompliance. Yesterday, March 26, 2020, EPA’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) Assistant Administrator Susan Parker Bodine responded to these concerns with the issuance of a memorandum addressing the impact of the current global COVID-19 pandemic on EPA’s enforcement program. In it, OECA commits EPA to a “temporary policy” of exercising enforcement discretion for noncompliance “resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” provided that regulated entities follow the steps required in the policy.
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As the country responds and adapts to unprecedented change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are, understandably, attempting to sort out what these shifts mean for operations now and in the near future. One operational aspect that companies must address is management of environmental compliance programs and responsibilities. Although it can be challenging to maintain compliance with environmental requirements during periods of uncertain or disrupted operations, doing so remains necessary as environmental regulatory requirements remain in force, despite disruptions to government functions. The current operational and regulatory climate is fluid and changing daily (at least), making it incumbent upon companies to remain vigilant in monitoring for updates and understanding the status of rules and requirements at any given moment. The keys to successfully navigating compliance challenges during the pandemic are preparedness, situational awareness, and early and frequent communication with regulatory agencies as appropriate, with the assistance of counsel as needed.
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Following Governor Abbott’s recent proclamation of a state of disaster in Texas due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) have issued guidance for regulated entities relating to environmental compliance concerns as well as other useful information relative to agency operations during these uncertain times.
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On the morning of March 16, 2020, we first caught wind of impending Shelter-in-Place orders in Northern California, which began taking effect in several counties, encompassing much of the San Francisco Bay Area, on Tuesday. Next, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued his March 19, 2020 “stay-at-home” order to try to slow COVID-19’s spread throughout the state.
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The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (the Regional Water Boards) recently published guidance on complying with regulatory requirements during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders.
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The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 (Guidance), outlining steps employers can take to help protect their workforce. The Guidance focuses on the need for employers to implement engineering, administrative, work practice controls and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as considerations for doing so. While there is no specific OSHA standard covering infectious disease or COVID-19 in particular, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to the virus including OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 C.F.R. § 1910.20) Personal Protective Equipment (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I) Hazard Communication (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1200) and Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (29 C.F.R. § 1904). Also, the General Duty Clause of OSHA which requires employers to provide a “place of employment . . . free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
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The Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak is affecting virtually every sector of society and the economy. The healthcare sector and government agencies are on the front lines of the response. Providing support to these critical response activities as well as striving to maintain the strength of the overall economy by continuing regular business operations is vitally important. The private sector has important roles to play. The purpose of this blog post is to briefly outline some practical and legal tools available to help provide both direct support and maintain broader economic activities while ensuring environmental protection and compliance with natural resource laws.

This blog post will be updated as new or relevant information becomes available.


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