(CNN) — The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency is indefinitely dialing back enforcement of regulations and fines for companies during the coronavirus pandemic.
The EPA announced the policy in a memo Thursday, citing worker shortages, social distancing needs and travel restrictions for both agency employees and contractors as a result of the pandemic.
“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.
While pulling back from enforcement, EPA says it expects public water systems not to relax their standards.
“Public water systems have a heightened responsibility to protect public health because unsafe drinking water can lead to serious illnesses and access to clean water for drinking and handwashing is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” states a memo from EPA’s enforcement office.
Environmental groups, which have been fighting the rollback of EPA pollution regulations since Trump took office, objected to Thursday’s announcement.
“This is an open license to pollute. Plain and simple,” said Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator under former President Barack Obama and now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Trump administration, McCarthy said, “is taking advantage of an unprecedented public health crisis to do favors for polluters that threaten public health.”
The move, EPA says, “does not provide leniency for intentional criminal violations,” and doesn’t apply to Superfund and other hazardous and solid waste management.
The policy is retroactive to March 13.