Catskill Mountainkeeper has joined a national legal fight to prevent what its leaders say is a Trump Administration effort to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to relax environmental regulations.


The Sullivan County organization and a dozen-plus environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, recently filed suit in U.S. District Court in White Plains.


They’re challenging the EPA’s declaration, late last month, that it won’t issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous waste-reporting requirements, due the pandemic.


The emergency rule change allows power plants, factories and other businesses, like big farming operations, to self-determine if they meet federal legal requirements to report on air and water pollution.


The lawsuit, however, applies far less to New York because states have considerable autonomy to enforce federal environmental law.


“In states (like New York) where state-level enforcement is vigorous (the EPA order) won’t make a huge difference on the ground,” said Richard Webster, legal director at Riverkeeper, whose group is not part of the suit. “But (the rule change) speaks to a relaxing of federal enforcement and how the EPA’s enforcement has been in decline” since Trump took office.


The environmental organizations in the suit want to halt to the EPA’s rule change, which they say has nothing to do with the pandemic, and route it through the regular rule-making process.


“This is a dereliction of duty on the EPA’s part,” said Katherine Nadeau, Mountainkeeper’s deputy director.


daxelrod@th-record.com