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Trump EPA touts air quality improvements
The Trump administration celebrated newly released data Tuesday showing improvements in most air quality measurements, despite the administration's efforts to roll back emissions regulations.
The Tuesday release from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes 2017, so it is the first time that any effects of President Trump's policies could potentially be reflected in the data.
The report found decreases in levels of pollutants like sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone and nitrogen oxides.
And while Trump officials focused on decades-long air quality improvements compared with 1970, Tuesday's report found that levels of particulate matter - also known as soot - had ticked up slightly.
"These are remarkable achievements that should be recognized, celebrated and replicated around the world," acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler told reporters.
"How is this accomplished? Largely through federal and state implementation of the Clean Air Act and technological advances in the private sector to improve emissions controls and minimize air pollution."
The 73 percent drop in key pollutants since 1970 came as the United States's economy tripled, which officials said shows that the economy can grow while air quality improves.
Bill Wehrum, head of the EPA's air office, said the Trump administration is helping keep up the trend by "aggressively" enforcing air rules, improving the process to carry out air programs and improving how it implements standards.
Wehrum attributed the particulate matter increases to last year's unusually strong wildfires in the West. Lead pollution levels also increased, but he said that is due to an increase in air quality monitors.
The Trump administration has worked aggressively to weaken or delay many major air pollution regulations. It tried to delay implementation of the 2015 ozone pollution rule, implemented a policy to let certain major air pollution sources be regulated as minor ones and is working to repeal emissions rules for oil and natural gas drillers and power plants.
Tuesday's report came as the administration is expected in the coming days to propose easing fuel efficiency and emissions regulations for cars, standards that the Obama administration said would save thousands of lives.
Wehrum declined on a Tuesday call with reporters to comment on that proposal, since it isn't public yet, but he did give a small hint about how the administration will justify its rollback.
"When you impose more stringent vehicle fuel efficiency standards and more stringent greenhouse gas standards on cars and trucks, that can have an effect on highway safety," he said.
"And we have to consider, assess as best we can what we think the effect is going to be, and then weigh that against other benefits and detriments that flow from a rule like this to get the best aggregate result that we can."