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Smog Alert: What Trump’s EPA Cut Proposals Could Do to Air Quality

The Environmental Protection Agency has been at the center of controversy since Trump nominated Scott Pruitt, who sued the EPA 13 times, to run the agency, as Trump’s Administration has already set a stark contrast on the environment from his predecessor, Barack Obama.

On April 12, a federal appeals court delayed a hearing on a lawsuit over a smog rule enacted by the Obama Administration to give the EPA and the Trump Administration time to decide what action they want to take on the 2015 rule. The rule reduced the allowable standard of ozone concentration in the air to 70 parts per billion from a 2008 standard of 75 parts per billion, and was criticized by environmental organizations for being too lax.

Throughout Pruitt’s career, he has fought against additional EPA smog protection and air quality rules, including the Cross State Air Pollution rule in 2015, fighting EPA efforts to reduce ozone emissions, challenging oil and gas drilling standards for air quality, opposing carbon pollution standards and other clean air standards for power plants. In many of these cases, Pruitt’s legal battles against the EPA were with the industries who were being regulated as co-parties in his cases.

Before the EPA was founded in 1970 and subsequent clean air and water standards were pushed for by individuals and environmental organizations, air and water pollution was even more rampant and damaging than it is today. In the 1960’s, New York City suffered from some of the worst air pollution in the country, and in 1966 somewhere between 160 to 400 people were killed in the city by a haze of sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. The Trump Administration and Scott Pruitt’s agenda for the EPA is embarking on a dangerous precipice to start repealing and scaling back the environmental regulations that have mitigated some of the damage caused by widespread air pollution and carbon emissions.

A 2013 study published in PNAS, led by economist at MIT, Michael Greenstone, found a direct correlation between air pollution and significant decreases in life expectancy, citing that air pollution in China shortened the lives of 500 million people in China by 2.5 billion years. The American Lung Association released a report in 2016 noting more than 50 percent of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

Rather than accept and develop strategies, policies, and regulations based on science, Trump’s EPA transition team have made claims that the EPA and scientists have lied about the dangers of air pollution. This unsubstantiated belief not just in climate change and the science behind it, but beliefs against the dangers associated with air pollutants to human health are placing in danger the environment and health of the Americans the EPA was created to protect. The 2017 State of Global air report cited air pollution as the 5th leading cause of death globally.

“Decades of research conducted in numerous cities throughout the world show that when air pollution levels increase, so do the numbers of people dying. More important, studies of long-term exposure to air pollution demonstrate that people living in more polluted locations die prematurely, compared with those living in areas with lower levels of pollution,” the report noted. “Research also provides details on how air pollution affects human health, with evidence clearly showing impacts on the rates of cardiovascular disease and stroke, in addition to the more easily appreciated effects on respiratory disease.”

The Clean Air Act was initially enacted in 1970 and amended several times since as a tool to regulate and reduce air pollution in the United States. A 2016 report on air trends conducted by the EPA detailed the success of the most recent amendment to the Clean Air Act in 1990; “nationally, concentrations of the criteria air pollutants have dropped significantly since 1990:

+ Carbon Monoxide (CO) 8-Hour,  77%

+ Lead (Pb) 3-Month Average,  99%

+ Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) Annual,  54%

+ Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) 1-Hour,  47%

+ Ozone (O3) 8-Hour,  22%

+ Particulate Matter 10 microns (PM10) 24-Hour,  39%

+ Particulate Matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) Annual,  37%

+ Particulate Matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) 24-Hour,  37%

+ Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) 1-Hour,  81%”

So far, Trump’s Administration has signaled they plan, with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt’s “back to basics” plan, to revoke as much of the environmental movement and Clean Air Act’s progress in pushing the EPA to take meaningful measures to protect the environment and everything that survives on it, including us.

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Michael Sainato’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, Buffalo News, the Hill, Alternet, and several other publications . Follow him on twitter: @MSainat1

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