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Administration rolls back pollution standards amid a global pandemic


Second to eliminating the coronavirus altogether, one of the most important things we, as a nation, can do to improve the public health during this unprecedented pandemic is improve air quality.

Nearly a million Americans have now tested positive for coronavirus – a respiratory disease that is wreaking havoc on the lungs of those infected.

But that’s not all. Early evidence suggests that people with damaged lungs may be more vulnerable to the disease. Doctors also fear that coronavirus may have long-term negative impacts on our lungs.

Clearly, if the Trump administration is serious about protecting the health and wellbeing of all Americans, they need to be doing everything they can to improve the quality of the air we breathe.

Not only will this help those whose lungs may be hurt by the virus, but reducing air pollution, and therefore minimizing risks to respiratory damage, will make Americans less susceptible to the virus in the future. This is especially important for communities of color who disproportionately suffer from air pollution and are now suffering from disproportionate death rates from coronavirus.

Unfortunately, however, the Trump administration has done the complete opposite. Rather than take steps to improve our air quality, they’ve used the coronavirus crisis as cover for a multi-pronged attack on critical air pollution protections.

Just in the last month, the administration has rolled back standards for carbon pollution from cars and stepped back from tighter limits on the soot implicated in higher coronavirus fatalities. They’ve weakened EPA’s environmental enforcement policy and undermined the scientific research requirements that the agency uses to set environmental and public health standards.

Recently, however, the administration put the cherry on top of its egregious campaign to destroy our air quality. On April 16, the Trump administration announced that it was no longer “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. Up until this point, these Obama-era Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have been estimated to prevent 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks and 11,000 premature deaths each year.

Rolling back these pollution standards amid a global pandemic is a new low, even by this administration’s standards. But what’s even more baffling about this measure is who stands to benefit from it.

The vast majority of the electric power sector opposes a rollback of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. In fact, Exelon, one of America’s biggest utilities, was quoted by the Washington Post in February saying EPA’s decision to change the standards is “an action that is entirely unnecessary, unreasonable, and universally opposed by the power generation sector.”

That is because good actors in the industry have already made the substantial investments to clean up their act and meet our standards. This means that the rollback benefits only the worst polluters at the expense of everyone else.

This, of course, is the opposite of what the federal government should be doing at any time – but especially during a public health crisis.

Whether we’re fighting coronavirus or the climate crisis, we need a response that’s based on science and facts, not politics and fiction.

We should be strengthening, not weakening, limits on dangerous air pollutants. And we should be prioritizing the health of all Americans over the profits of a few power companies.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout this pandemic, it’s that we’re all in this together. There’s not a single American who does not benefit from having clean air to breathe. And it’s up to all of us to demand better from this administration.

Our health – and the health of our environment – depends on it.

Diana DeGette represents Colorado’s 1st District and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change and Betty McCollum represents Minnesota’s 4th District and is chairwoman the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee.

Tags Betty McCollum Coronavirus COVID-19 Diana DeGette Mercury

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