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WA Ecology Dept. Distances Itself from EPA During COVID-19

While most Washington state Department of Ecology staff is telecommuting, its spill response team still is on the ground and in waterways. (Des Runyan/Flickr)
While most Washington state Department of Ecology staff is telecommuting, its spill response team still is on the ground and in waterways. (Des Runyan/Flickr)
April 15, 2020

SEATTLE -- The Washington state Department of Ecology is making clear it won't give any slack on environmental regulations, despite the Environmental Protection Agency relaxing rules during the pandemic. The department is exercising "reasonable discretion" in pursuing violations, but says it's still prioritizing laws that protect public health.

Rich Doenges, southwest regional office director for the state agency, said nearly all staff is telecommuting to work now, but that doesn't include vital employees such as the spill response team.

"So they're out there in the field, maintaining safe distance, using appropriate protective equipment and keeping the rest of our staff informed of what they're seeing and working on," he said.

Doenges said the team responded to a marina fire in Seattle in mid-March. He also noted that EPA's decision to relax enforcement of environmental laws doesn't affect Washington, because Ecology is in charge of enforcement in the state.

Doenges said the agency understands the coronavirus could interfere with some regulated entities' ability to comply with state requirements. While the agency can't change the law, he said, Ecology might be able to assist them with compliance.

"We're making clear to all our regulated communities that their permit and regulatory requirements are still in effect," he said, "and that if they're having difficulty or think they're going to have difficulty meeting those requirements, they should contact their Ecology staff that they work with."

He said some routine field inspections have been suspended temporarily to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order.

The Washington Department of Ecology's statement is online at ecology.wa.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA