Racing against the clock to keep harming vulnerable people, the Trump administration put into place a last-minute decision to keep standards for soot levels in the air at their current threshold for the next five years. Let’s spell it out: That’s a decision against reining in a deadly air pollutant, in the middle of a respiratory disease pandemic.
Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency had recommended tightening the threshold for soot and other particulates from the standard, set in 2012, of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air to eight to 10 micrograms. According to estimates, a limit of nine micrograms could save 9,050 to 34,600 lives per year. Those lives would be disproportionately Black, Latino, and Asian American, given the concentration of pollution producers like incinerators, power plants, factories, and highways near neighborhoods where Black and brown people live.
Multiple studies have found this racially disproportionate “pollution burden.” According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “On average, communities of color in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic breathe 66 percent more air pollution from vehicles than white residents.”
EPA head Andrew Wheeler and the rest of Team Trump knew what they were doing: “Documents obtained by The Washington Post show the EPA has disregarded concerns raised by other administration officials that several of its air policy rollbacks would disproportionately affect minority and low-income communities.”
While the Biden administration could move toward stronger policies, this last-minute Trump decision will slow progress toward cleaner air.
“It’s not just a quick fix overnight. These communities are going to be breathing the same air for some time,” the Environmental Justice Health Alliance’s Michele Roberts told The Washington Post. “People of color and the poor—that is who gets hit the hardest by this.”