The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced a temporary COVID-19 enforcement policy on March 26 that relaxed the consequences for not meeting legal environmental requirements due to the pandemic.
Brenda Osthus, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s director of Environmental Health and Safety, said this policy will not affect UNL.
UNL has several permits it has to keep up to date with the EPA, including permits with the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. However, Osthus said these permits are easier for UNL to maintain than private companies. Some EPA permits only have to be checked a small number of times, while private companies, like the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, require permits to be checked once a year.
“We anticipate we’re going to be able to meet all of our permit obligations,” she said. “Right now we don’t expect to have any need to invoke the enforcement discretion policy.”
Even though the new policy does not affect UNL, Haley Nolde, a junior environmental studies major and member of Sustain UNL, said the new policy could have long-term effects on the environment.
“It kinda affects everyone,” she said. “It might not be directly affecting people, but in the future it will affect you, your kids.”
According to Nolde, Sustain UNL has worked hard to advocate for better environmental standards and divestment from fossil fuels, but right now it’s hard to advocate for divestment because of the virus and the EPA’s new policy.
“It’s gonna be hard to advocate for green energy if … there’s no cap on emissions and they’re cheaper,” she said.
Osthus said UNL cares about keeping up with policies, even during a pandemic.
“We’re always committed to complying with all of the regulatory requirements that apply to the university operations, not only because we’re obligated to do so under the law, but because we’re good environmental stewards,” she said.
Nolde said students can continue to be sustainable at home by educating themselves and the people around them.
“There’s plenty of time for people to change and gather information now, so I think it’s really time to try new ways of living to be more sustainable,” she said.
Nolde said the coronavirus can affect everyone, but the environment does, too.
“The environment is such a big deal just because it can affect anyone,” she said. “It’s kind of just eye opening, and I hope people realize that this is going to be a continuing issue of the globe warm[ing], diseases, pests, insects, things like that, it’s just going to get worse. This is the time where we can reconsider how we’re actually gonna go about daily life.”