WASHINGTON, December 7, 2020 — Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would not strengthen standards for particulate-matter air pollution, one of the most common—and most harmful—pollutants in the United States. By maintaining the existing standards, EPA has failed to listen to the science and protect the health of people across the country, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Below is a statement by Dr. Gretchen T. Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.
The EPA has one job: to protect public health and the environment, based on the best available science. With only a few weeks left in their tenure, President Trump’s EPA political appointees have abdicated this responsibility. The failure to strengthen particulate-matter protections is a dereliction of duty that puts lives at risk.
This deficient rule, unfortunately, comes as no surprise. The Trump administration rigged the rule-making process to achieve exactly this result by cutting science and scientists out of the picture at every turn.
Growing scientific evidence is revealing that long-term exposure to fine particles is even more hazardous than we once thought, and today’s standards simply aren’t protective enough. We know that communities of color are disproportionately exposed to this pollution, leading to racial disparities in health conditions like asthma and cardiovascular disease. And the latest studies suggest that particulate pollution can also increase the severity of COVID-19. The Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel, comprised of 20 air pollution and health experts cut out of the process by the Trump administration, met anyway and concluded that the current standards aren’t adequate to protect public health, as required by the Clean Air Act.
Faced with all of this information from the nation’s top experts, Administrator Andrew Wheeler deliberately chose to ignore it. EPA political appointees have prioritized the profits of polluting industries over public health, violating the very mission of their agency. They’ve made a decision to ignore the evidence—a decision that’s all the more callous coming in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a century.
A new administration will arrive in January, and they must move quickly to restore the role of science in setting air pollution standards.
Last year, UCS helped convene an Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel composed of scientists and experts dismissed by the Trump administration. The panel found that current particulate matter standards are not sufficiently protective of human health and must be strengthened. Dr. Goldman wrote on the administration’s broken process and flawed result here.
The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe and sustainable future. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.