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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The bottom line: "After this policy is no longer in effect, the EPA expects full compliance going forward," the agency said.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

1 hour ago - Health

Boris Johnson announces month-long COVID-19 lockdown in U.K.

Prime Minsiter Boris Johnson. Photo: NurPhoto / Getty Images

A new national lockdown will be imposed in the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Saturday, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country topped 1 million.

Details: Starting Thursday, people in England must stay at home, and bars and restaurants will close, except for takeout and deliveries. All non-essential retail will also be shuttered. Different households will be banned from mixing indoors. International travel, unless for business purposes, will be banned. The new measures will last through at least December 2.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The massive early vote

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Early voting in the 2020 election across the U.S. on Saturday had already reached 65.5% of 2016's total turnout, according to state data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project.

Why it matters: The coronavirus pandemic and its resultant social-distancing measures prompted a massive uptick in both mail-in ballots and early voting nationwide, setting up an unprecedented and potentially tumultuous count in the hours and days after the polls close on Nov. 3.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Ipsos poll: COVID trick-or-treat.
  2. World: Greece tightens coronavirus restrictions as Europe cases spike — Austria reimposes coronavirus lockdowns amid surge of infections
  3. Economy: Conference Board predicts economy won’t fully recover until late 2021.
  4. Technology: Fully at-home rapid COVID test to move forward.
  5. States: New York rolls out new testing requirements for visitors.

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