WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Monday refused to tighten controls on industrial soot emissions, ignoring an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates.
In one of the latest policy moves from an administration that has spent the past four years weakening or rolling back more than 100 environmental regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency has completed a regulation that keeps in place, rather than tightening, tiny rules, which damage the lungs. industrial particles, called PM 2.5, though the agency’s own scientists have warned of links between pollutants and respiratory disease.
EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler is expected to announce the rule on Monday afternoon, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Public health experts say the rule defies scientific research, including the work of the EPA’s own public health experts, which indicate that PM 2.5 pollution contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths each. year, and that even a slight tightening of controls on fine soot could save thousands of American lives.
In April, Harvard researchers published the first national study linking long-term exposure to PM 2.5 and death rates from Covid-19. The study found that a person living for decades in a county with high levels of fine particles is 15% more likely to die from the coronavirus than a person living in an area with one unit less fine particle pollution .
The new rule retains a standard adopted in 2012. This rule limited pollution from fine industrial soot particles – each about 1/30 the width of a human hair, but associated with heart attacks, strokes, and deaths. premature babies – at 12 micrograms per cubic meter. . By law, the EPA is required every five years to review the latest scientific data and update this standard.
When EPA scientists conducted this mandatory review, many concluded that if the federal government tightened this standard to about nine micrograms per cubic meter, more than 10,000 American lives could be saved per year.
In a 457-page scientific assessment project of the risks associated with maintaining or strengthening the fine soot rule, career scientists at the EPA estimated that the current standard is “associated with 45,000 deaths. ” every year. Scientists wrote that if the rule were tightened to nine micrograms per cubic meter, annual deaths would decrease by about 27%, which equates to 12,150 people per year.
After the report was released, many industries, including oil and coal companies, automakers, and chemical companies, urged the Trump administration to ignore the results and not tighten the rule.
In a November 2019 public comment submitted by 13 industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, industry representatives wrote: PM 2, 5 and adverse effects on public . “
EPA executives agreed with the industries assessment. In December last year, a seven-member EPA advisory group, made up mostly of members appointed by the Trump administration, told Wheeler that the career scientists’ findings were not conclusive enough to support the tightening of the rule. A final version of the scientists’ report, released in January to get an overview of the as yet unpublished rule, says the rule as it stands contributes to 45,000 deaths per year, but it also only says that tightening it would reduce ” health risks ”, not death.