House Democrats are calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure that minority and low-income communities have equal access to clean air protections amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter spearheaded by Rep. Bobby RushBobby Lee RushCongress: To improve health equity, provide relief for office-based specialty care McConnell says he made 'inadvertent omission' in voting remarks amid backlash Clyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' MORE (D-Ill.) and signed by 83 House Democrats, lawmakers noted reports of minority and low-income communities dying at disproportionate rates from COVID-19, as well as a recent Harvard University study that concluded that patients in areas with higher air pollution levels are at a greater risk of dying from the disease.
“For these reasons, we are alarmed by EPA — the agency authorized to enhance clean air protections — taking actions that are contrary to its mission,” Democrats wrote in the letter sent to EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy & Environment — 'Forever chemical' suits face time crunch Lawmaker asks ex-EPA chief why he couldn't convince Trump climate change is real Virginia exits multi-state coalition backing EPA in climate lawsuit MORE on Wednesday.
The Democrats wrote that the EPA under the Trump administration has rolled back “nearly 100 environmental regulations,” a quarter of which “dismantled much needed air pollution and emissions regulations.”
“The correlative nature between this pandemic and the very core of EPA’s work, which is to protect human health and the environment, necessitates swift action to secure equal rights to vital clean air protections. We, therefore, urge prompt intervention to prevent irreversible harm to our communities,” the Democrats wrote.
In a statement to The Hill on Thursday, the EPA rejected the claims, saying the letter relies on "false conclusions drawn by the Harvard study."
"As we have stated before, the study’s authors have misinterpreted our temporary enforcement guidance and the study is being used by the House Members to perpetuate misinformation about EPA’s [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] proposal," the EPA said.
"Additionally, the Members misrepresent the action taken under our final [Mercury and Air Toxics Standards] rule. No more mercury or any other hazardous air pollutant will be emitted into the air than before. EPA is maintaining its mercury and air toxics emissions standards," the EPA added.
The EPA late last month issued a memo suspending the enforcement of environmental laws, telling companies that they would not need to routinely monitor or meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak. The temporary policy has no end date.
"We will continue to work with federal, state and tribal partners to ensure that facilities are meeting regulatory requirements, while taking appropriate steps to protect the health of our staff and the public," an EPA spokesperson said Thursday, adding that temporary enforcement policy does not constitute a blanket waiver of environmental rules nationwide.
More than 843,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 46,851 deaths have been reported across the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Updated at 11:49 a.m.