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EPA Announces Temporary Enforcement Discretion Policy
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By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on March 26, 2020, a temporary policy regarding enforcement of environmental legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic.  EPA states that its temporary enforcement discretion policy applies to civil violations during the COVID-19 outbreak.  The policy addresses different categories of noncompliance differently.  For example, according to EPA, it “does not expect to seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations that are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic but does expect operators of public water systems to continue to ensure the safety of our drinking water supplies.”  The policy describes the steps that regulated facilities should take to qualify for enforcement discretion.  To be eligible for enforcement discretion, the policy requires facilities to document decisions made to prevent or mitigate noncompliance and demonstrate how the noncompliance was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

EPA notes that its policy does not provide leniency for intentional criminal violations of law and that it does not apply to activities that are carried out under Superfund and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Corrective Action enforcement instruments.  EPA states that it will address these matters in separate communications.  The policy states that it does not apply to imports.  According to the policy, EPA is “especially concerned about pesticide products entering the United States, or produced, manufactured, distributed in the United States, that claim to address COVID-19 impacts.”  EPA “expects to focus on ensuring compliance with requirements applicable to these products to ensure protection of public health.”

The policy will apply retroactively beginning on March 13, 2020.  EPA will assess the continued need for and scope of this temporary policy on a regular basis and will update it if EPA determines modifications are necessary.  To provide fair and sufficient notice to the public, EPA states that it will post a notification on its website at least seven days prior to terminating the temporary policy.