Since the Clean Air Act went into effect in 1970, the amount of the six most common air pollutants — ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and lead — in the skies over American cities has dropped by half, even though the population and economic activity have increased significantly since then.
Today, the level of small particulates — defined as particles in the air that are 2.5 microns in diameter or less — is half what it is in Berlin or London. Those PM 2.5 particles are caused mostly by automobile exhausts, especially diesels. They are dangerous because they are small enough to cross directly into the bloodstream in the lungs, leading to cardiovascular and pulmonary disease.
A recent report by the World Health Organization states that more than 90% of the people living today are breathing polluted air. Residents of Delhi breathe air that is 800 times more polluted than it is in most US cities. While the US has every reason to be proud of its efforts to clean up the skies over America, the process is one that requires continuous vigilance. The efforts of the Trump administration to roll back a broad spectrum of clean air regulations has many concerned the gains made in the past 50 years could be lost.
Counterintuitive And Worrying
“The actions of this administration are extremely counterintuitive and worrying,” Christine Todd Whitman tells The Guardian. Whitman is no bleeding heart liberal. She is a Republican who is a former governor of New Jersey and was the EPA administrator under George W Bush. “Time will be lost, pollution will be increased and lives will be endangered. It’s not that we will turn into Beijing or Delhi tomorrow but people take clean air for granted now and we can’t slide back to the smogs we once had.”
The face of the Trump maladministration on environmental protection is Scott Pruitt, the current EPA administrator who has sworn to take a sledge hammer to most environmental regulations, many of which he claims are an example of “government overreach,” as if protecting the citizenry is not a proper role for government. He has sworn to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, the Obama program designed to reduce emissions from coal fired generating plants.
Pruitt is also threatening to water down the fuel economy regulations put in place by his predecessor and refusing to enforce rules that require stricter monitoring of methane emissions from natural gas pipelines and fracking operations,
“This agenda is very detrimental. It will slow progress and in some instances make things worse,” says George Thurston, who specializes in environmental hazards at the New York University School of Medicine. “The problems won’t be evident to the average person, because people have heart attacks and asthma attacks for various reasons. But that harm will be there, it will happen.”
17 States Sue EPA
17 states, representing 43% of the US new car market, have sued Pruitt and the EPA in federal court over his attempt to roll back the fuel economy standards which are intended to lower the amount of emissions from new cars. The rules, put in place by the Obama administration, will govern the automotive industry until 2025.
The states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia — claim Pruitt’s actions violate the Clean Air Act, fail to follow the EPA’s own rules, and are “arbitrary and capricious.” That last one is legalese for “The EPA and the jackass running it don’t have a legal leg to stand on.”
In a report by Engadget, the lawsuit claims the existing fuel economy rules would keep 1.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and save American drivers an average of $1,650 in fuel costs over the life of their vehicles. The auto industry has been enthusiastically egging Pruitt on, even though they have actually achieved most of the targets of the regulations years earlier than expected.
Actions Have Consequences
“The administration will lose in court over a lot of these regulations because you can’t just get rid of them on a whim,” says Whitman. “What will be lost, though, is the institutional knowledge at the EPA. A lot of people are leaving in frustration and young people looking for a career are hardly looking to the EPA because it’s deemed unimportant. The damage has been done.”
George Thurston agrees and adds, “The US is showing a failure of leadership. If the developing world sees we are not serious about climate change and air pollution, they will be less willing to do something. It’s really irresponsible on the part of the administration.”
Making Americans Sicker Again
One of the primary roles of government is to protect its citizens from harm. The United States has spent hundreds of trillions of dollars on military adventures to protect Americans from communists, Trotskyites, Nazis, the red menace, the yellow peril, South American dictators, yellow cake uranium, weapons of mass destruction, and pirates. Much of that money has had the ancillary effect of protecting America’s access to fossil fuel reserves — a happy coincidence if nothing else.
Surely a small percentage of that money could be invested in making sure Americans have clean air to breathe, no? How is making America great again related to poorer health and shorter lives for US citizens? Wouldn’t a truly great nation strive to make sure its people enjoy long, healthy lives? Those are questions Americans might want to keep in mind the next time the go to a polling station to vote.
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