In today’s time of crisis, many have started discussing the place of environmental law in responding to COVID-19. Some have argued that environmental law has no place in virus responses, and some have argued it must occur contemporaneously. Whatever your opinion is, it seems that environmental law and COVID-19 are somehow intrinsically connected.
Contributors to Scientific American and The Hill have talked about the parallels, as well as a number of newspapers. Dr. Aaron Bernstein of Harvard University’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment explains why he believes the two are linked in a recent article for Environmental Health News.
Pending New Law
In the U.S., there have been recent debates at the Congressional level over whether to include environmental law provisions in the upcoming third stimulus package, including linking assistance to new emissions standards in the airline industry and boosting spending for the EPA and Departments of Interior and Energy. The solar and wind industries have asked for assistance as well, by extending the tax credits currently available.
This is not unique to the U.S., as many others around the world are looking at environmental concerns in tandem with COVID-19 as well, hoping that stimulus funds can be used to help the industries survive but also insist on greener policies in those industries. Whether the stimulus addresses environmental law issues or not, more people are talking about them.
Environmental law experts have likewise been concerned with environmental law compliance in the wake of COVID-19 implications, particularly for contaminated site cleanups. The ability of those involved in cleaning up sites required under state and federal environmental law is severely impacted. This is due to travel and work restrictions and government closures, in particular.
However, some states define “essential businesses” broadly, and these definitions may include businesses involved in site cleanups. Perhaps if a site is deemed an immediate threat to public health, government will allow remediation to continue as scheduled.
COVID-19 has had at least one positive impact, though. Where laws take time to improve environmental quality, the virus improved it rapidly. The images of pollution before and after the various shut-downs, particularly over China (until businesses resumed), Italy, and even India have been detailed online. In Venice, it has been years since the canal waters were as clear as they are now, since sediment remains on the bottom. The decline in emissions and pollution, albeit only temporary, gives many a clearer picture (pun intended) of why some environmental law advocates are pushing for lower emissions at the same time as trying to defeat COVID-19.
Environmental law and health policy have often intertwined, and with COVID-19 and climate change, it appears to be a continued mingling. It will be interesting to see if the stimulus package being worked on in Congress right now will contain any environmentally driven provisions. In the meantime, if you have any questions about environmental law or regulation compliance in these challenging times, call us at 401.477.0023 or email one of our attorneys. We will be happy to talk through your environmental law concerns and how COVID-19 shutdowns may impact you or your business.