On the heels of a Harvard University study which showed the long-term effects of air pollution can make coronavirus patients more likely to die from the disease, President Donald Trump's EPA flouted its own scientists' guidance Tuesday when it announced it would not tighten regulations on industrial soot emissions.
According to the New York Times, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler determined that scientists at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health seemed "to have a bias" when they published a study last week showing that exposure to tiny industrial particles called PM 2.5 is making some Americans more likely to die of the coronavirus.
"If there ever was a moment for all Americans, regardless of political persuasion, to demand the Trump EPA stop gutting the nation's air quality standards and finally place a premium on public health protection, it's now."
—Ken Cook, EWG
As a result, power plants and vehicle manufacturers will not be required to lower emissions.
"This decision by Andrew Wheeler is as tone-deaf as it is reckless," said Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook in a statement. "Right now, long-term exposure to PM 2.5 is increasing the number of people who are dying from the coronavirus. If there ever was a moment for all Americans, regardless of political persuasion, to demand the Trump EPA stop gutting the nation's air quality standards and finally place a premium on public health protection, it's now."
Even before the new coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, began spreading across the U.S. last month, killing more than 25,000 people in the country so far, scientists warned that PM 2.5 pollution contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths in the U.S. every year.
As the Times reported, scientists believe reducing emissions by only nine micrograms per cubic meter would save more than 12,000 people per year.
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Wheeler's decision "defies logic," the advocacy group Environment America said.
"Even before COVID-19, the data clearly showed that America's existing air quality standards weren't doing enough to protect our health," said Morgan Folger of Environment America. "Instead of foregoing its responsibility and mission to protect our health and the environment, EPA should listen to the scientists and strengthen soot protections."
Wheeler reportedly came to his decision following extensive lobbying by automakers and the fossil fuel industry, particularly after the EPA's scientists released last September a 457-page assessment showing that PM 2.5 pollution helps cause about 45,000 deaths per year.
The administrator's "appalling" adherence to the advice of industry polluters rather than scientists and public experts follows a familiar pattern, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said.
"Wheeler spent much of his career lobbying on behalf of powerful industries like coal producers, and it's clear he sees his job at the EPA as a continuation of that work," said Dr. Gretchen Goldman, research director for UCS. "Nearly every decision he's made has been aimed at making it easier and cheaper to pollute, in defiance of science, the public interest, and the EPA's public health mission he’s supposed to carry out. In the face of our current crisis, this indifference to our health is inexcusable."