EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler Leaves the Environment In Worse Shape

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler - The consequences of a coal man at the helm of the EPA

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will leave environmental damage as his legacy. His latest decision causes harm to both human health and the environment. He chose to ignore his own scientists and keep a 2012 standard for particulate matter pollution. An EPA report recommends a standard for nine micrograms per cubic meter, 25 percent stronger than the current limit of 12 micrograms. The current standard results in more than 52,0000 premature deaths a year.

Wheeler claimed that the EPA under the Trump administration “has continued America’s leadership in clear air.” He also claimed that “maintaining these important standards will ensure Americans can continue to breathe some of the cleanest air on the planet.” Perhaps he should read the EPA report that contradicts his statement. 

Lower-income communities and people of color bear a greater burden

Particulate matter pollution affects low-income communities and communities of color more. as studies show. A 2015 study found that low-income communities experience higher concentrations of air pollution. Those in poverty had a 1.35 times higher burden than the overall population while blacks had a 1.54 times higher burden, according to a 2018 study of particulate matter pollution. A 2016 study found that racial isolation is associated with long term pollution exposure. People of color have more exposure to particulate matter pollution than do whites, a 2012 study found.

“Low-income communities and communities of color will bear the brunt of Wheeler’s heartless decision,” said Al Armendariz, Sierra Club’s Senior Director of Federal Campaigns, in a statement. “The people most in need of strong science-based standards are the ones who will suffer.”

The health and environmental effects of particulate matter pollution

There are two types of particulate matter: PM10 (10 micrometers or smaller) and PM2.5 (2.5 micrometers and smaller). Both types can cause a slew of health problems, including nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms, and even premature death in people with heart or lung disease. An estimated three percent of cardiopulmonary and five percent of lung cancer deaths are attributable to particulate matter globally. People with heart or lung disease, children, and elderly adults are the ones most likely to be affected by particulate matter pollution.

Particulate matter also causes environmental damage. Particulate matter can be carried over long distances and can settle on the ground or water. Lakes and streams can become acidic as a result of particulate pollution. The nutrient balance in large river basins and coastal waters can change. Nutrients in the soil can be depleted. Sensitive forests and farm crops can be damaged, while the diversity of ecosystems is affected. Particulate matter can also contribute to acid rain effects.

Andrew Wheeler, the fossil fuel lobbyist 

Before Wheeler took the helm of the EPA, he worked as an energy lobbyist. His clients included Murray Energy Corporation, the largest coal mining company in the U.S. Wheeler is the vice president of the Washington Coal Club, a federation of over 300 coal producers, lawmakers, business leaders, and policy experts. He loves coal. 

Before working as a lobbyist, he worked as a legislative aide to Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, one of the biggest climate change deniers in Congress. Inhofe referred to climate change as “the greatest hoax” ever perpetrated and said in a radio interview that teaching children about climate change is “brainwashing.” When Wheeler’s nomination was announced, Inhofe praised the choice of the fossil fuel lobbyist. 

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is a man who puts profit above people, companies above nature. It should come as no surprise that one of his last acts as the head of the EPA is one that demonstrates no regard for human health.

Image by Donkey Hotey on Flickr

Trump Administration Loophole Allows Industrial Facilities to Pollute Neighborhoods

Environmental loophole opened under Trump's EPA allowing toxic pollution to persist in vulnerable neighborhoods

President Trump set a target on environmental regulations early in his presidency. After taking office in 2017, he issued an executive order that for every new regulation enacted, two are eliminated. His deregulation includes rollbacks of laws protecting the air, water, and addressing climate change. The Brookings Institute found that as of August 2020, the Trump administration enacted 74 rollbacks of environmental protections.

Add one more rollback to the list. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule in early October that rolled back the “once in, always in” toxic air pollution policy requiring industrial facilities to implement measures to control pollution as long as the plant operates. Established in 1995, the policy meant that a facility had to continue to follow standards to clean up the pollution it generated. 

The EPA determined that the once in, always in policy has no authority under the Clean Air Act “to limit when a facility may be determined to be an area source.” Instead, the rollback of the policy allows facilities to reclassify as area sources after they take an “enforceable limit on their potential to emit hazardous air pollutants that bring their level of emissions below the major source thresholds.”

The rollback is an environmental loophole for major polluters

The rollback of the once in, always in policy is a key part of Trump’s deregulation agenda. As EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “Today’s action is an important step to further President Trump’s regulatory reform agenda.”

The rollback amounts to an environmental loophole allowing thousands of large industrial facilities regulated as major pollution sources to opt-out of standards for hazardous air pollutants. It undermines the Clean Air Act that requires large industrial facilities to comply with maximum achievable control technology (MACT) if their emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAP) exceed major source thresholds. The MACT standards include 187 toxic pollutants. In 1995, the EPA determined that the Clean Air Act requires major industrial facilities to comply with MACT standards as long as they are in operation. 

The loophole allows any facility that is a source of major pollution to reclassify itself as a small area source if it emits below the major source threshold, even if it only emits below the threshold because it complies with MACT standards. A total of 3,912 industrial facilities across the country, including refineries and chemical plants, could use the loophole to avoid complying with MACT standards, according to the EPA’s analysis. Nearly 1,600 of those facilities in 48 states could increase pollution annually by more than 49.2 million pounds, analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund found. 

The most vulnerable are at risk of toxic pollution

The loophole could expose millions of people in the U.S. to toxic air pollution increases. EDF’s analysis found that the greatest increases in pollution would occur in Texas, California, Michigan, and Louisiana. Seven California cities make the top 10 of the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2020 report for ozone pollution. Six California cities make the top 10 for year-round particle pollution, while five of the state’s cities make the top 10 for short-term particle pollution. 

The environmental loophole puts the most vulnerable people at risk. Many of the facilities where pollution could increase under the loophole are in low-income communities and communities of color. The EDF analysis found that 73 percent of the facilities that will emit more pollutants under the loophole are located where the percent of the population qualifying as low income is above the national median. A total of 91 percent of the facilities are in areas where the percentage of the minority population is above the national median. Children and the elderly will be disproportionately affected. Fully 78 percent of the facilities are in areas where the percent of the population is below five years of age or above 64 years old are above the national median. 

The 3,912 facilities eligible to use the loophole produce pollutants “pose serious risks to human health,” the Union of Concerned Scientists states. Those pollutants include benzene, styrene, and formaldehyde. All three are linked to serious health problems such as cancer and respiratory illness.

What you can do

Are you tired of the Trump administration’s rollbacks of environmental protection? Vote him out on November 3. 

Photo by Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash

The Failure of U.S. Climate and Environmental Policy and Why There is Still Hope

U.S. climate policy. Resist!

Writing to a  class of international students “Climate Change Mitigation in the Developing World” about “climate policy where I live”

It is, of course, hard news from the United States with Donald Trump signing his “energy independence” executive order.   Among other things, the order calls for a “rewrite” of former president Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP is (was) the cornerstone of the U.S. INDC commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Continue reading “The Failure of U.S. Climate and Environmental Policy and Why There is Still Hope”