ONE hundred and one environmental and public health organisations have sent a letter to the US Government, calling for federal agencies to suspend active or pending mining and drilling decisions, for at least 60 days, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. They ask for it to cover all permitting, leasing, and rulemaking for oil, gas, and mining, and associated infrastructure.
The letter, sent 9 April, follows decisions to suspend enforcement of environmental and public health protections, made by the US Environmental Agency (EPA), the Forest Service, the Army Corp of Engineers, and other environmental agencies. It states that as a result, the Administration should suspend permitting processes and related decisions for major new industrial facilities, until at least 60 days after the national emergency is lifted.
Whilst communities are adhering to guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities to shelter in place and maintain social distance, many controversial oil, gas, and mining proposals are moving forward.
These include plans by the EPA, Department of Interior, and others to roll back important health protections in Q2 and Q3, including Clean Air Act safeguards on the oil and gas industry; Pebble Mine, a very large porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit in Alaska which threatens a local salmon fishery; and the process for a seaport oil terminal in Texas, despite the comment period closing during the pandemic. A comment period is a range of time in which the public can submit input before an agency makes a final decision on a proposed rule.
Public hearings related to these types of industrial activities – including hearings and tribunals – have been halted. This means the public is unable to participate in the typical democratic process for review and input. Additionally, stay-at-home orders across the country may limit access to the internet, mail, phone service, or travel, making it difficult for communities to meaningfully engage in public review and comment periods.
In the letter, the environmental and public health organisations ask the Government to extend all existing public comment periods until 60 days after the national emergency is lifted.
The letter adds: “The COVID-19 global pandemic has created unanticipated hardships on us all. Our government should not respond to one health crisis by making decisions that potentially increase other health and environmental threats – especially when the public that our government ostensibly serves cannot adequately participate in the decision-making process. Instead, the government should focus on protecting all people during this difficult time.”
A similar sentiment was expressed by Aaron Mintzes following the EPA’s announcement about temporary policy that would allow non-compliance from industries such as oil and gas and power generation, in cases where it is as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Mintzes is Senior Policy Counsel at the non-profit organisation Earthworks, a signatory of the letter.
The letter was sent to the US Office of Management and Budget. The office assists the US President in meeting his policy, budget, management and regulatory objectives and to fulfil the agency’s statutory responsibilities.
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