Trump Administration Rejects Tightened Restrictions on Deadly Air Pollutant, Soot

Graphic by Annabel Driussi for ODP

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

On Monday, the Trump administration rejected more stringent standards on the nation’s most widespread air pollutant, soot. Despite mounting evidence that air pollution is linked to lethal outcomes from respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, the administration moved to retain the standards set in 2012 under President Obama.

The administration says that the existing regulations are sufficient despite public health experts’ and environmental activists’ pleas for more robust action on soot pollution. 

Why This Matters: According to Sierra Club, current levels of particulate matter in the atmosphere cause over 52,000 premature deaths a year. Fine particulates in the air measure less than 2.5 micrometers wide and can enter the lungs or the bloodstream causing asthma, heart attacks, and other health conditions. The current limit for these particles is set at 12 micrograms per cubic meter and, on some days, is permitted to rise to 35 micrograms. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own research shows that reducing this limit to 9 micrograms could save up to 34,600 lives annually

By The Numbers: Research has shown that those who suffer most from soot and other air pollution are primarily people of color and the poor. Low income and minority groups often live closer to industrial operations that produce air pollution like incinerators, power plants, smokestacks, and oil refineries.


Another Rush Job: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler mimicked some of Trump’s previous false talking points regarding tougher air pollution regulations by, telling reporters, “The United States has some of the cleanest air in the world, and we’re going to keep it that way. We believe the current standard is protective of public health.”

The United States is ranked 16th globally for air quality. The rejection comes after a 30-day interagency review, a timeline that environmentalists critique as rushed. The Office of Management and Budget has declined to meet with the League of Conservation Voters, the NRDC, and some other groups, but did make time to meet with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. This decision is one of many frantic efforts by the Trump administration to fulfill its pro-industry, anti-environment agenda before President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration in January. 


In the Dark: A special investigative report from Reuters released last week found that the EPA’s nationwide air quality monitoring network failed to properly measure particulates in the air. The EPA was even found to have strategically placed monitors outside the range of polluting operations, leaving local organizations to set up their own monitors to inform and protect citizens. 

Bridgette Murray, executive director of a community-based organization called Achieving Community Tasks Successfully, saw her neighbors fall victim to headaches, lung ailments, and even cancer. In response, the community erected 6 new air monitors to measure pollutants in the neighborhood. To her, this rejection of new standards is proof that the administration isn’t doing enough to protect communities like hers. 

Advocacy groups agree. Amit Narang, Public Citizen’s regulatory policy advocate, called out the administration for its polluter-friendly  practices, “The Trump administration’s EPA has repeatedly and deliberately hid the harmful impacts of its rollbacks to environmental justice communities, meaning low-income and minority populations.” 


Al Armendariz, Sierra Club’s Senior Director of Federal Campaigns, released a statement taking aim at Wheeler himself, “Soon to be former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has chosen to burn the American people one more time before he leaves office by again refusing to follow the science, medical evidence, or any moral compass,” he said. “As a result, low-income communities and communities of color will bear the brunt of Wheeler’s heartless decision. The people most in need of strong science-based standards are the ones who will suffer.”


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