By Vijay Limaye, John Walke and Emily Davis, Natural Resources Defense Council
Air pollution is deadly. It’s a global menace that contributes to millions of early deaths each year from heart disease, lung ailments, and cancer. In the U.S., millions of people are breathing in polluted air day after day and it’s imposing huge costs on our society in terms of deaths, illnesses, and reduced worker productivity.
A large share of air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels, which is an inconvenient truth for the climate change deniers in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Because they know that scientific understanding of the health harms of air pollution has never been stronger, political appointees at EPA have been working hard ever since President Trump took office to undermine the agency’s mission to protect public health by ensuring that every American has clean air to breathe.
Attacks on Clean Air
Since taking office three years ago, the Trump administration has led an aggressive assault on the legal and scientific underpinnings of the Clean Air Act. These are the very components that have made it so effective at holding polluters accountable. EPA leaders have disbanded expert air pollution science panels, weakened enforcement of pollution violations, and rolled back a long list of clean air protections across a range of sources, from coal-fired power plants to vehicles to natural gas extraction projects. Unfortunately, the consequences of these reckless attacks on the Clean Air Act are making it harder for all of us to breathe. Air pollution levels around the country have risen under the Trump administration for a number of reasons, including reduced vigilance and enforcement against polluters; deadly smoke generated by unprecedented, climate change-fueled wildfires in the western United States; and summertime extreme heat episodes that continue to break records and trigger air pollution spikes.
A Reckless Plan that Endangers All
The latest assault on the Clean Air Act came on April 30, when EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced his proposal to keep the national soot pollution limits right where they are. Despite an analysis from EPA’s own scientists that soot pollution is linked to 50,000 early deaths each year, Administrator Wheeler thinks our air is clean enough.
Wheeler’s proposal allows for dangerous levels of fine particle (soot) air pollution to persist across the country, in alignment with EPA’s numerous actions in recent years that favor polluters over people.
The EPA proposal is dangerous attack on public health for all sorts of reasons:
- It fails to protect people especially vulnerable to air pollution, including children, older people, and marginalized communities that are disproportionately burdened by polluted air
- It undermines and misrepresents science by claiming that the available evidence does not warrant stronger limits on pollution
- Instead of following the scientific advice of leading experts, it leans heavily on the discredited views of industry sympathizers that currently occupy the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) who themselves acknowledged an inability to interpret the science, It gives greater weight to flawed studies favored by CASAC’s fringe voices, instead of fairly considering all of the evidence
- It follows from a rushed and corrupt review process as Wheeler’s EPA attempts to finalize the proposal during Trump’s first term
Rushing to Secure Wins for Polluters
Wheeler’s EPA is racing to finalize this proposal in the midst of a historic respiratory disease pandemic. In May, NRDC and partners asked EPA to pause this proposal or at least extend the public comment deadline to allow medical professionals like nurses and doctors to review, the agency declined. In the past, EPA has held multiple public hearings for a proposal like this because of its far reaching consequences; this time around, EPA organized a limited set of online public hearings and was forced to add hearing slots because of the large public interest.
That’s why this week, NRDC is joining with partners to submit comments to EPA Administrator Wheeler that explain why his proposal is misguided, anti-science, and illegal. Our extensive comments, spanning 184 pages, 278 attachments, and 483 footnotes debunk Wheeler’s inaccurate portrayal of the existing evidence base and highlight all of the scientific evidence that confirms that there’s no safe level of air pollution and that EPA needs to strengthen the national standard.
Now is the time for EPA to follow the science and the law and take action to ensure that clean air is a reality for all. Our lives depend on it.