Legal Issues

Environmental Compliance Precautions - March 27, 2020

Even with guidance from EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) announcing enforcement discretion during the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses, facilities, or municipalities should consider implementing certain precautions to avoid possible enforcement.

Federal and state enforcement discretion are not guaranteed. Regulated entities should consider taking steps to maximize their ability to continue to comply with environmental regulations. 

EPA’s enforcement discretion policy requires that entities make every effort to continue to comply with their environmental compliance obligations.  Iowa DNR reserves the right to take enforcement for conduct that is outside the scope of the DNR protocol, endangers state natural resources, or endangers the public’s health and welfare. 

Businesses and facilities should be prepared to continue to comply with state and federal environmental regulations and weather potential reduced capacity, staffing issues, or closures. 

Even if COVID-19 is not present or spreading within your community, there is much you can and should be doing now to insulate the operation of your facility and ensure continuation of environmental compliance functions:

  • Cross-train staff in essential operation of environmental systems, recordkeeping, and reporting obligations.
  • Update standard operating procedures so someone with little familiarity with your facility’s environmental equipment could step in and operate the equipment.
  • If closing your facility in the face of massive staffing shortages is not an option, identify experienced operators familiar with your facility and/or living nearby.  Reach out to see if they are willing and available to help in an emergency.
  • Confirm that contact information for all staff members is current to allow for communication even if staff is in quarantine.
  • Restrict nonessential outside visits to your facility.
  • Suspend nonessential construction activities if contractors have contact with staff or share common facilities (rest rooms, meeting rooms, equipment).
  • Ensure an adequate supply of materials that support environmental compliance (filters, treatment chemicals, spill absorbents, and other consumables).
  • Make sure operations/environment, health, and safety staff are communicating frequently with management staff about the health status and availability of staff trained to operate pollution control equipment or other environmental compliance equipment, and in recordkeeping and reporting protocols.
  • Communicate with chemical and other environmental suppliers on product availability.  Many supply chains are being impacted by the pandemic.
  • Communicate with waste haulers on any scheduling or staff restrictions that may affect your storage of hazardous waste.
  • For facilities that may need to continue operating as an essential facility during a stay-at-home order or to support emergency manufacturing priorities, supply necessary provisions (showers, rest area, food, etc.) for extended shift operations if necessary.

Leaders of regulated entities are encouraged to talk with an environmental law attorney to make sure the actions they are taking comply with EPA and IDNR guidelines.

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