In case you weren't panicking enough about the way that ambient environmental factors might be surreptitiously destroying your body, the EPA decided that right now would be a great time to change the rules about how they calculate the risk associated with mercury and other toxic metal factory byproducts.
From The New York Times:
The new Environmental Protection Agency rule does not eliminate restrictions on the release of mercury, a heavy metal linked to brain damage. Instead, it creates a new method of calculating the costs and benefits of curbing mercury pollution that environmental lawyers said would fundamentally undermine the legal underpinnings of controls on mercury and many other pollutants.
By reducing the positive health effects of regulations on paper and raising their economic costs, the new method could be used to justify loosening restrictions on any pollutant that the fossil fuel industry has deemed too costly to control.
The real insult-to-injury here is that it would be easy for the EPA to turn a blind eye to these sort of regulations. Offices are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with so much chaos in the world, shady actors in the EPA could deliberately let these rules slip by while still maintaining plausible deniability.
In fact, the EPA already did something like that earlier in this lockdown crisis. In late March, it announced that it was suspending enforcement of environmental compliance — essentially leaving it up to private companies to decide for themselves if they're following pollution laws. From The Guardian:
In an extraordinary move that has stunned former EPA officials, the Trump administration said it will not expect compliance with the routine monitoring and reporting of pollution and won't pursue penalties for breaking these rules.
Polluters will be able to ignore environmental laws as long as they can claim in some way these violations were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the event of an imminent threat to public health, the EPA will defer to the states and "consider the circumstances" over whether it should intervene.
There is no end date set for this dropping of enforcement.
In a way, it's good that we're all being forced to stay indoors right now. Because by the time this viral outbreak subsides, there might not be much of a beautiful outdoors left to enjoy.
E.P.A. Weakens Controls on Mercury [Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport / New York Times]
Trump administration allows companies to break pollution laws during coronavirus pandemic [Oliver Milman and Emily Holden / The Guardian]
Image: Nils Ally / Wikimedia Commons (CC 3.0)