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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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The Phillips 66 Bayway oil refinery along the New Jersey Turnpike in December 2019. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency will not take action against power plants and other facilities that violate rules on air and water pollution or handling hazardous waste if those breaches are the result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the agency announced Thursday.

What's happening: The EPA is reacting to potential worker shortages and laboratories made inoperable by COVID-19, as more states issue stay-at-home orders and businesses close to promote social distancing — an effort to fight the spread of the virus.

  • But, the agency has "heightened expectations for public water systems," it said on Thursday, prioritizing timely updates on water safety to prevent avoidable illnesses.
  • The EPA's relaxed enforcement does not apply to "violations that are the result of an intentional disregard for the law," the EPA noted.

What they're saying: “At a time when Americans are rightly focused on protecting their health and safety during the COVID-19 crisis, it is unfathomable that the EPA has decided not to enforce public health laws, while continuing to weaken public health standards," Collin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said on Thursday.

  • “It is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules,” EPA spokesperson Andrea Woods told the New York Times. “For situations outside of routine monitoring and reporting, the agency has reserved its authorities and will take the pandemic into account on a case-by-case basis.”

The bottom line: "After this policy is no longer in effect, the EPA expects full compliance going forward," the agency said. If the policy is in place for less than three months, the agency "does not plan to ask facilities to 'catch-up' with missed monitoring or reporting."

Go deeper: U.S. leads world in confirmed coronavirus cases for first time

Go deeper

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

10 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.

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