Melissa Troutman, who co-founded a local muckraking publication and also works for the environmental nonprofit Earthworks, knew that fracking waste could be radioactive and toxic, so she filed a complaint with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Within a few hours, she received a surprising response: The agency would “look into the leak at the tank farm after the shutdown concludes.” With no end in sight to the nation’s coronavirus outbreak, Troutman was alarmed that the tank would leak indefinitely, potentially poisoning the surrounding land.

Troutman decided to share screenshots of the video with Grist. After Grist contacted the DEP to confirm Troutman’s account, the environmental agency sent an inspector to investigate. They found that what initially appeared to be a leak was, in fact, rust-colored staining from a previous leak that had been fixed. An agency spokesperson said that the DEP contacted JKLM Energy, the company that owns the storage tanks, after Grist contacted the agency. JKLM Energy provided photos to confirm the tanks weren’t leaking, and the agency concluded there was no evidence to suggest “the health of the local community [was] at imminent risk,” as Troutman suspected.

The incident highlights a key challenge that state environmental agencies are facing as local leaders across the U.S. announce shelter-in-place orders and social distancing measures. Regulatory agencies still have to enforce statutorily-mandated environmental requirements — which often require travel and human contact — while at the same time minimizing risks for their employees and doing their part to help contain the virus.

In states where many residents already consider environmental regulators too cozy with the polluting industries that form the bedrock of local economies, the balancing act could further erode public trust at a critical time — no matter how well it’s pulled off.

Read the full article about environmental enforcement by Naveena Sadasivam at Grist.