The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every sector of the economy in multiple ways. For businesses whose operations are subject to environmental requirements, including waste management, storage, and disposal laws, these coronavirus-related disruptions may impact a facility’s ability to comply with mandatory reporting and submission deadlines or waste storage time limits.
In California, hazardous waste generators must submit and update annual hazardous materials business plans, observe strict timelines for hazardous waste storage, and obtain professional certifications for inspections of certain equipment, among other environmental obligations. The complexity of California’s environmental regulations presents compliance challenges under normal circumstances, and these challenges have been significantly exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis, as businesses have been forced to reduce on-site personnel and commit their limited resources in new and different directions.
Unfortunately, the California Environmental Protection Agency (“CalEPA”) has not provided any public guidance to the regulated community in this state regarding its inspection practices, enforcement priorities, potential exercise of enforcement discretion, or available support resources during this time. Anecdotally, some regulated businesses have reported that hazardous waste haulers continue to operate on schedule, and that on-site regulatory inspections have been postponed indefinitely. However, at least for now, it appears that businesses faced with these new challenges to their environmental compliance programs must devote their already-strained resources to seeking out guidance from their regulators on an individual, case-by-case basis.
In contrast, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has issued public guidance on several aspects of its programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, available on its website: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/response/covid-19/tceq-preparedness-responsibilities-covid-19.
Until CalEPA issues its own guidance, businesses dealing with environmental compliance issues in California should remain aware of applicable deadlines and other regulatory time limits, plan ahead to account for potential delays in obtaining necessary certifications or submitting required documents, and maintain contact with their regulators for guidance during these difficult times.