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The bottom line: "After this policy is no longer in effect, the EPA expects full compliance going forward," the agency said.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

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Disney announces partnership and documentary series with Colin Kaepernick

Photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Walt Disney Company announced Monday that ESPN Films will produce an exclusive docuseries on political activist and former NFL player Colin Kaepernick as part of a larger deal with Kaepernick's production arm RA Vision Media.

Driving the news: Former ESPN personality Jemele Hill tweeted that she'll be serving as a producer on the docuseries, after leaving the network two years ago following a dramatic falling out in 2018. At the time, Hill's outspoken tweets about President Trump put the network in the crosshairs of a polarizing debate over race and politics.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12 p.m. ET: 11,495,412 — Total deaths: 535,185 — Total recoveries — 6,217,763Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12 p.m. ET: 2,897,613 — Total deaths: 129,953 — Total recoveries: 906,763 — Total tested: 35,512,916Map.
  3. Public health: Case growth outpacing testing in hotspots — Medical community urges public to wear masks.
  4. States: Texas hospitals in danger of being overwhelmed amid surge.
  5. Politics: Meadows says Trump "is right" to claim 99% of coronavirus cases are "harmless."

Court orders temporary shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline

Protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline in San Francisco in 2017. Photo: Joel Angel Juarez/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A federal judge ordered Monday the shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline — a project at the heart of battles over oil-and-gas infrastructure — while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts a new environmental analysis.

Why it matters: The latest twist in the years-long fight over the pipeline is a defeat for the White House agenda of advancing fossil fuel projects and a win for Native Americans and environmentalists who oppose the project