By Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club
This week, clean air supporters broke down the virtual doors of an EPA hearing on a Trump air pollution proposal, and I’m so here for it. They overwhelmed the EPA on the first and second days of online hearings on the Trump administration’s insufficient national soot standard proposal, demanding stronger protections against deadly particulate matter. Former coal lobbyist turned EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler ignored EPA scientists and public health experts’ recommendations to lower the legal limit for soot — the very fine particles of air pollution that get lodged deep in the lungs. Wheeler, instead, decided to retain a less-protective 2012 standard.
The hearings come on the heels of a major Harvard University study published last month, which found that chronic exposure to these fine particles of air pollution (also known as particulate matter or PM2.5, which comes from sources like coal plants and vehicle tailpipes) is linked to higher death rates from COVID-19. In other words, if you spend your life in places where the air pollution is worse and then get COVID-19, you are more likely to die from the virus. It’s communities of color who are more likely to live in areas burdened with the higher levels of air pollution. This is the first nationwide analysis directly correlating COVID-19 outcomes with long-term exposure to particulate matter.
Wheeler, however, ignored the potentially life-saving findings of this study and rejected a formal recommendation by EPA scientists to strengthen the soot standard. So it was heartening to see person after person testifying against Wheeler’s deadly plan. Demand to testify was so high that the EPA had to add three more days of hearings to accommodate all of the requests.
This soot proposal is yet another polluting plan from Wheeler — he’s again decided that our country’s most vulnerable people don’t deserve to have their lungs protected, even during a pandemic of a disease that attacks the lungs. Soot is one of the most dangerous air pollutants. It can cause strokes and heart attacks in seniors, impair development and worsen asthma in children, and contribute to premature death for people with preexisting conditions.
Thank you Crystal Vega, age 14, from #Phoenix, testifying at @epa‘s PM2.5 #NAAQS hearing. @ChispaLcv @cleanairmoms This young lady wants to hike and play sports outside but as an asthmatic in a polluted city she must limit her activities. #particlepollutionkills #wheelermustgo
Wheeler’s proposal, which represents yet another favor to polluters, has infuriated many communities across our country, which is why historic numbers of us have demanded to testify in favor of strengthening the soot standards.
Soot is dangerous and kills people. The current annual soot standard, which was set in 2012, is 12 micrograms per cubic meter and results in more than 52,000 premature deaths a year. The EPA’s own scientists estimate that an annual standard of 9 micrograms per cubic meter, or 25 percent stronger than the current limit, could prevent 12,500 premature deaths annually. An even stronger annual standard of 8 micrograms per cubic meter would save even more lives. But, as usual, Wheeler ignored the recommendations of his own scientists, choosing instead to allow coal plants and other polluting facilities to continue fouling our air at the current unsafe level.
I’ll continue to watch folks testify today and Friday against Wheeler’s latest deadly plan. We must speak out to protect public health!