Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) announced a sweeping suspension of environmental protection laws and regulations due to the current COVID-19 crisis. While the severity of this crisis cannot be understated – suspending enforcement of our bedrock environmental laws, and the critically important monitoring that tells us just how polluted our air and water is, will only create an entirely new crisis. We cannot undermine our public health and safety by giving polluters a pass.
If you think this wouldn’t happen in California, think again! The Chair of the California Senate Transportation Committee has already requested the California Air Resources Board delay existing regulatory requirements and suspend the development of future regulations related to air quality. And various industries from the water sector are already requesting and putting political pressure on the California Water Boards to similarly lax regulatory requirements during the COVID-19 crisis.
Our waterways in California are already polluted with trash, toxic runoff, and heavy metals that prevent California’s communities from using and enjoying local waters, and cause serious health impacts to children and families who do swim or fish. This pollution is even more profound in underserved communities who lack access to clean drinking water and unimpaired streams and rivers. As summer approaches, we will likely see a wave of beach closures – not due to needed-social distancing measures, but because these same beaches will be fed by rivers, creeks, streams impaired with the pollution that wash from our streets and industrial sites – preventing California families from visiting their favorite beaches as a reprieve from the summer heat and from weeks spent at home.
Clean water fuels our economy and agricultural sector. Groundwater aquifers, however, are largely degraded throughout the state due to elevated levels of nitrogen that leach from agricultural fields and dairies – leaving our groundwater unusable for drinking water. California’s Water Boards have only begun to set serious timelines to prevent the continued degradation of California’s precious groundwater aquifers – and if these compliance schedules and timelines are suspended due to the current COVID-19 crisis, this harmful pollution will continue unabated, harming California’s families and farmers not only now, but for generations to come.
California has begun incredible momentum to secure safe, affordable water for every Californian, to restore our groundwater aquifers, and to ensure that our rivers, bays, and estuaries are safe to drink, fish, and swim. As national clean water laws and their enforcement is eroded, we must improve and support – not weaken – the function of our Water Boards to ensure every California family, farmer, and community has access to safe, clean water.