Wheeler’s Remarks about Cleaner Air Shameless and Misleading - EDF

June 4, 2020
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5718, sstein@edf.org

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler gave a June 2nd speech trying to take credit for America’s relatively clean air without acknowledging that he is trying to tear down the safeguards that created it.

“Wheeler’s speech only makes sense if he’s trying to praise past Presidents who put in place clean air protections – rules the Trump administration has been relentlessly trying to dismantle,” said EDF General Counsel Vickie Patton. “This is like someone with a wrecking ball admiring the building they are knocking down.”

On Wheeler’s watch, EPA has undertaken a series of rollbacks that threaten to increase lethal air pollution and exacerbate the climate crisis. His attacks on these vital clean air protections would cause thousands of additional premature deaths, lead to more asthma attacks and respiratory illnesses, and lead to dirtier air in communities across the country. Many of these burdens will fall hardest on communities of color that already suffer disproportionately from air pollution.

Just since the coronavirus pandemic began, Trump EPA Administrator Wheeler has:

  • Finalized a rollback of America’s Clean Car standard – an action that all by itself will result in an additional 18,500 premature deaths, 250,000 asthma attacks, and 350,000 respiratory ailments, and increase carbon pollution by 1.5 billion tons.
  • Issued a final rule undermining life-saving protections against mercury, arsenic, acid gases, lead and other toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants. Those protections are currently saving 11,000 lives and preventing 130,000 childhood asthma attacks each year.
  • Issued a proposal to reject any strengthening of air quality standards for particle pollution, a pollutant that is responsible for 85,000 premature deaths each year.
  • Issued a sweeping industry non-compliance policy relaxing enforcement of specific clean air protections at the height of the pandemic.
  • Expanded his initiative to censor the health science that saves numerous lives from deadly air pollution.

Since 2017, the Trump administration has undertaken approximately 100 rollbacks of environmental and public health protections. The administration’s shameful legacy also includes:

  • A rollback of the historic Clean Power Plan, which would cause nearly one in five of the nation’s coal plants (two-thirds of which are located in disproportionately low-income and minority communities) to increase soot and smog-forming pollution.
  • A proposal that would create an air toxics loophole allowing nearly 4,000 large industrial facilities nationwide, many of which are located in overburdened communities, to stop complying with rigorous protections against hazardous air pollution.
  • A proposal to eliminate limits on methane pollution from oil and gas development, which would expose communities of color, low income communities, children and the elderly to toxic benzene, volatile organic compounds and other health-harming contaminants (as mapped here).

Wheeler’s speech also completely neglected the large body of evidence that shows too many Americans are still suffering from poor air quality, and that some types of dangerous air pollution are increasing. The American Lung Association’s 2020 State of the Air report found that 150 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy ozone or particulate pollution – a sharp increase from its reports for 2018 and 2019. The report found that many of those areas are experiencing higher levels of pollution because of climate change – a trend that the administration’s rollbacks of vital climate safeguards will make worse.

“Wheeler’s remarks shock the conscience in claiming credit for air pollution protections that he is systematically eviscerating,” said Patton. “Any recent progress in reducing overall air pollution has come in spite of, not because of, Wheeler’s actions. EDF will continue fighting to protect our bedrock clean air protections.”

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