Over the past week, dozens of moms from 18 states and DC delivered testimony at the EPA’s virtual public hearing on PM 2.5, or deadly soot. Trump’s EPA recently proposed to retain the current standards for particle pollution, ignoring science and putting thousands of lives at risk. Even in the midst of a national public health emergency from COVID-19, moms signed up in unprecedented numbers to testify by telephone at this virtual public hearing. It’s one of many ways Moms Clean Air Force is continuing to do serious and consequential advocacy and outreach during the coronavirus pandemic.
What follows is adapted from the testimony that I shared with EPA at the hearing.
The particle pollution proposal from EPA is riddled with deeply troubling procedural problems. We are in the midst of a global respiratory pandemic. This pandemic makes it vastly more difficult for the public to participate in responding to EPA’s proposal, yet EPA neither deferred nor extended the comment period; indeed, the agency has set a timeline that would be considered rushed even without a national public health emergency and state-at-home orders in place.
By setting a 60-day comment period, EPA is doing literally the bare minimum that is required by the law. This, in the middle of a pandemic unprecedented in our lifetimes. This should be a time when the agency does absolutely everything in its power to creatively and diligently solicit public input. Instead, EPA is doing the bare minimum. This makes it perfectly clear how little Administrator Wheeler values hearing from stakeholders.
Particle pollution is one of the most consequential pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act. It is associated with tens of thousands of deaths each year. It causes heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease, among other grave health impacts. These are among the very underlying health conditions that make people more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
There has never been a time when the hazards of these underlying health conditions have been so clear. But instead of recognizing the vital importance of improving the health status and resilience of Americans, Administrator Wheeler has chosen to stick with a health-harming status quo.
Particle pollution may even increase the risk of dying from coronavirus. New analysis, from Harvard University, indicates that a small increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5, of only 1 μg/m3, is associated with a large increase in Covid-19 death rate — an 8% increase.
When the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel – the group of scientists dismissed by Andrew Wheeler in 2018 – met to consider the science around the health effects of particles, it concluded that EPA needs to strengthen the standards to somewhere between 8 and 10 micrograms per square meter.
There are only 19 counties in the US that are out of attainment with the current standards. But 230 counties have long term particle pollution levels greater than 8 – including my home town of Washington DC.
What this means is that there are hundreds of counties where people think they are breathing healthy air, and they are not. Places where states and cities should be doing more to protect people. Places where industries should be held accountable for the tens of thousands of lives lost, but they are not. Families have the right to know if the air they are breathing is safe.
Administrator Wheeler’s proposal on particle pollution is too weak to adequately protect families. It ignores the weight of scientific evidence, and flouts procedural considerations that should be paramount during a global public health emergency. More importantly, it will reliably lead to thousands of avoidable deaths from air pollution. Thousands will suffer from asthma flare-ups, lung infections, and other ailments. EPA needs to follow the science and strengthen the standards.