July 31, 2018, by Jennifer A. Dlouhy
The Trump administration is touting strides in cleaning up America’s air, even as it works to roll back Obama-era mandates curbing pollution from power plants, automobiles and oil wells.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s annual air quality report, released Tuesday, documents a 73 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and other key pollutants between 1970 and 2017, even as the U.S. economy tripled and Americans used more energy. The report’s key message: “Air quality improves as America grows.”
“The U.S. leads the world in terms of clean air and air quality progress,” Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler told reporters on a conference call. “These are remarkable achievements that should be recognized, celebrated and replicated around the world.”
The assessment highlights nationwide reductions in emissions, including criteria air pollutants tied to asthma attacks and respiratory diseases. And it credits federal and state regulations on factories, power plants and automobiles as driving the reductions.
Meanwhile, under President Donald Trump, the agency is working to ease some of those mandates.
The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is in the final stages of vetting a proposal to put the brakes on federal rules boosting fuel efficiency and curbing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. It also is reviewing drafted EPA proposals to scale back Obama-era limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and the methane and volatile organic compounds that flow out of oil and gas wells.
The moves are “putting the air we breathe in severe peril” and “reversing decades of clean air progress,” said Jeremy Symons, vice president of political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund.
“If polluter lobbyists had gotten their way for the past 40 years like they do under Trump, we wouldn’t have the clean air today that has improved the health and lives of millions of Americans,” Symons said by email. “The only reason pollution hasn’t gotten worse yet is because the courts have stopped Trump’s reckless attempts to roll back Clean Air Act protections that have successfully reduced pollution from tailpipes and smokestacks.”
William Wehrum, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, stressed that the agency is continuing “to aggressively implement programs that are already on the books.”
The new report documents year-on-year declines in nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide. But it also reveals increases in particulate matter, such as soot, with much of that attributed to large wildfires in the west. A small uptick in lead is tied to more data and different monitoring techniques, Wehrum said.