EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler just gave a speech trying to take credit for America’s relatively clean air without acknowledging that he is trying to undo all the protections that created it.
“Wheeler’s speech only makes sense if he’s trying to praise past U.S. Presidents who put in place strong clean air rules – rules the Trump administration has been relentlessly trying to dismantle,” said Vickie Patton, General Counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund and a co-founder of Moms Clean Air Force: “This is like someone with a wrecking ball admiring the building they are knocking down.”
On Wheeler’s watch, EPA has undertaken a series of rollbacks that threaten to increase harmful air pollution and exacerbate the climate crisis. His attacks on these vital clean air protections would cause thousands of additional premature deaths, lead to more asthma attacks and respiratory illnesses, and lead to dirtier air in communities across the country. Many of these burdens will fall hardest on low-income and minority communities that already suffer disproportionately from air pollution.
Just since the coronavirus pandemic began, Administrator Wheeler has:
- Finalized a rollback of America’s Clean Car standard – an action that all by itself will increase carbon pollution by 1.5 billion tons and result in an additional 18,500 premature deaths, 250,000 asthma attacks, and 350,000 respiratory ailments.
- Issued a final rule undermining life-saving protections against mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants. Those protections are currently saving 11,000 lives and preventing 130,000 childhood asthma attacks each year.
- Issued a proposal to reject any strengthening of air quality standards for particulate matter, a pollutant that is responsible for 85,000 premature deaths each year.
- Issued a sweeping policy relaxing enforcement of environmental and health protections at the height of the pandemic.
These are only the most recent of the approximately 100 rollbacks of environmental and public health protections that the Trump administration has undertaken since 2017. The administration’s shameful legacy also includes:
- A rollback of the historic Clean Power Plan, which would cause nearly one in five of the nation’s coal plants (two-thirds of which are located in disproportionately low-income and minority communities) to increase soot and smog-forming pollution.
- A proposal that would create an air toxics loophole allowing nearly 4,000 large industrial facilities nationwide, many of which are located in overburdened communities, to stop complying with rigorous protections against hazardous air pollution.
Wheeler’s speech also completely neglected the large body of evidence that shows too many Americans are still suffering from poor air quality, and that some types of dangerous air pollution are increasing. The American Lung Association’s 2020 State of the Air report found that 150 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy ozone or particulate pollution – a sharp increase from its reports for 2018 and 2019. The report found that many of those areas are experiencing higher levels pollution because of climate change – a trend that the administration’s rollbacks of vital climate protections will make worse.
“Wheeler’s outrageous remarks claiming credit for overall reductions in air pollution are as shameless as they are misleading,” said Patton. “Any recent progress in reducing overall air pollution has come in spite of, not because of, Wheeler’s actions. EDF will continue fighting to protect our bedrock clean air protections.”