Written by Ron Bennett

As governors across the nation prepared for an onslaught of critical cases and grappled with how and when to implement stay at home orders to protect public health, it was business as usual at federal agencies determined to undercut decades of environmental protections. This timeline illustrates some – but not all – of the attacks on air-quality and climate as the nation reeled at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

3/18/20      10,442 COVID-19 cases in the US
EPA proposes broad science restrictions in midst of coronavirus pandemic. The Environmental Protection Agency proposed restrictions on the types of research that can be used in public health protection decisions and scientific assessments. Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the agency is only giving the public sixty days to comment. Union of Concerned Scientists has developed a guide to assist you in making a public comment, and urge you to do so before the May 18th deadline.

3/26/20      85,356 COVID-19 cases in the US
Congress wraps up a $2.2 trillion economic stabilization package without any relief for the clean energy sector. A proposed extension to current renewable energy tax credits from 2024 to 2027, along with Airline greenhouse gas reductions (as a condition for aid) were removed in a deal to also remove a $3 billion oil industry bailout. That same day, the EPA quietly announced its new policy to relax oversight and penalties for water or air violations at power plants and industrial operations. 350.org has called for a just recovery that benefits all citizens while prioritizing health and fostering a sustainable economy.

3/31/20    186,101 COVID-19 cases in the US
EPA rolls back auto emissions standards. “This rule will lead to dirtier air at a time when our country is working around the clock to respond to a respiratory pandemic whose effects may be exacerbated by air pollution,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., in a statement. 350.org supports the rapid electrification of transportation infrastructure.  If you haven’t already, you can do your part by strongly considering an EV for your next vehicle. There’s an impressive map of EV charging stations on Denver’s “Pass Gas, Drive Electric” program page. And yes, that’s really what it’s called.

4/3/20      277,205 COVID-19 cases in the US
White House hosts fossil fuel industry leaders and directs the cabinet to find ways to ease an industry credit crisis and storage glut using tax-payer dollars and the strategic petroleum reserve. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he was making federal lands available to drillers and considering a series of other options to help oil companies. While OPEC+ agreed to cut production 10% demand globally is down 30% with only a few months of storage remaining. Shale producers – incapable of turning a profit – were drowning in debt well before the crisis. Any rescue attempt for such companies is futile. Learn more at #NoBigOilBailout.

4/9/20      492,416 COVID-19 cases in the US
BLM publishes its final plan for expanded fracking and coal extraction across southwestern Colorado. “We are disappointed the BLM is moving forward with a plan that clearly disrespects the wishes of the North Fork community, ignores a decade’s worth of community input and endangers our economic future and our public lands and waters — along with the farms, ranches, vineyards and recreation businesses that depend on them,” said Patrick Dooling, executive director of the Western Slope Conservation Center. The decades-long plan puts thousands of square miles at risk. US Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO said “Rather than do the hard work to build consensus and balance interests, the Trump Administration’s energy dominance agenda in Washington overruled the concerns of Colorado counties.” Learn how you can join 350 Colorado’s call to pause all oil and gas permits statewide, especially in light of the current pandemic.

4/16/20    661,712 COVID-19 cases in the US
EPA declares that Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are unjustified, laying the groundwork for legal challenges. Industry has complied with the standards in place since 2011 by shutting down or retrofitting coal-fired power plants and opposed the new rule change. That same week the EPA declined to adopt stricter air-quality standards for fine particle pollution (or soot) despite recommendations from its own staff scientists and a Harvard study that showed that a small increase in long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution causes a large increase in the risk of dying of COVID-19. There’s never been a better time to shutdown dirty coal plants and replace them with clean renewable power for people’s health and a livable planet.

4/23/20    865,585 COVID-19 cases in the US
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin considers a government lending program for struggling oil companies. The scheme involves the federal government taking a financial stake in “investment-grade companies” but the secretary also said that he’s discussing “alternative structures with banks” for less creditworthy companies. The Fed requires a company’s debt to be investment-grade as of March 22 to qualify for the central bank’s bond-buying program. Loosening that requirement would open the door to less creditworthy companies like struggling oil drillers. Write to your representative in congress urging them to hold the line on fossil fuel company bailouts.

While the federal government rolls back environmental protections and coddles failing industries, here in Colorado we keep holding our breath for a plan to protect public health from oil and gas operations. Mandated by the legislature and signed by the governor last April, SB19-181 redefines the COGCC’s mission to include the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources. Only this March – when they were just getting started – COGCC paused SB19-181 rulemaking citing stay at home orders – yet it continues to issue new fracking permits. Whether through rollbacks of existing rules or endless delays in implementing new ones, it looks like the industry has friends on the inside.

It’s up to activists and concerned citizens to make our voices heard. Start by signing this petition to protect air quality during this crisis and join 350 Colorado in its mission to hold government accountable to the people, not just the industries it regulates.

Ron Bennett
Decarbonization Advocate

Did you enjoy this blog post? Please consider making a donation to 350 Colorado to fund our efforts to halt the attack on our environment.