Oct 23, 2020 | OPINION | By Evan Rao | Illustration by Grace Nedelman
In what are hopefully the last few months of the Trump presidency, the president and his cabinet are rushing to further solidify his record as an environmental arsonist. As other administrations facing a potential turnover of power have done in the past, Trump and his appointees to important governmental agencies are desperately attempting to implement as many reforms as possible. However, what makes the Trump administration unique when compared to past administrations is its blatant disregard for science and public input.
Nowhere is this malpractice more clearly exemplified than in Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These past few weeks, the EPA has been quickly working to finalize key air pollution rules: National Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulates and for ozone. Essentially, the EPA is striving to retain current air quality standards set by Scott Pruitt, Trump’s former head of the EPA, even though these standards are heavily criticized for being far too lenient. Studies have linked high atmospheric concentrations of particulates and ozone to a variety of respiratory issues, culminating in over 7000 U.S. deaths per year. With more strict air quality standards, these deaths could be easily prevented.
Environmental organizations including EarthJustice, Clean Air Task Force, Environmental Defense Fund, and others filed a complaint against the EPA’s decision to maintain current air quality standards. In it, they stated that “The Administrator’s rationale for not revising the standards, which is grounded in the notion that the science is ‘uncertain,’ is contrary to the evidence of record, and antithetical to the precautionary mandate of the (Clean Air) Act.” Consequently, they suggested that the EPA revise the standards to accommodate at-risk populations.
It is doubtful that the EPA, under the Trump administration, will be responsive to these protests. Already, the EPA has released statements on both proposals with the intent to move forward. Furthermore, the EPA is attempting to implement more long-lasting reforms, specifically a limit on scientific analysis in policy making and new ways to consider costs and benefits of actions regarding the environment. Coupled with the Trump administration filling important seats on scientific advisory boards, a Biden administration would likely struggle to reverse many of these changes.
Regardless of what happens in November, the environmental legacy of the Trump administration will be long lasting. Last-minute decisions to maintain inadequate air quality standards are just one of many choices made in the last four years to the detriment of public health and the environment. Perhaps the only thing one can do, then, besides voting, is to keep track of the many ways Trump is destroying the environment and seek avenues to make it clear how unpopular these decisions are.