2021 Brought Promise for Clean Air
This holiday season, the legacy of last year’s “Christmas gifts” from the outgoing Trump EPA is still very much alive.
Part of NRDC’s Year End Series Reviewing 2021 Climate & Clean Energy Developments
Though unwinding four years of Trump polluter giveaways is time consuming, we’re hoping for quick action from EPA in 2022 that will bring with it cleaner air for all. Here’s what happened in the world of clean air this year, and what we’re expecting in 2022:
1. Clearing the Air: Updated National Limits for Smog and Soot pollution
As the year began, in a last-minute move that surprised no one, the Trump administration ignored the advice of its own career scientists and made good on its polluter promises to leave federal limits for both smog and soot pollution at unchanged, inadequate, and unsafe levels—putting the health of tens of millions of people at risk. NRDC sued EPA over both of these moves.
The Biden Administration quickly took action to reconsider both of these decisions, and has worked to reconstitute scientific panels of experts that advise the EPA on air pollution science that the prior administration largely gutted as part of its anti-science, anti-health agenda. The agency has issued updated science and policy reports on health harms from soot pollution, and has also undertaken revamped policy and scientific assessments for ozone smog pollution. This week, NRDC and other health and environmental groups urged EPA to adopt stronger limits on soot air pollution.
Based on these updated science assessments, public input, and input from a well-qualified group of technical experts, the Agency plans to propose standards for both smog and soot in 2022, and take action on ozone pollution that crosses state lines, violating the “good neighbor” provisions of the Clean Air Act. Now is the time for EPA to stand up for people over polluters and establish more protective national air pollution limits.
2. Toxic Legacy: Air Pollution from Power Plants
In 2021, the Biden Administration started to reconsider the previous administration’s decision to undermine toxic air pollution standards for power plants. While it was critical for EPA to review this “absolute abomination” we’re still waiting on its final decision.
Reinstating this legal underpinning to EPA’s toxic air pollution standards is long overdue, and EPA needs to act quickly in the new year to undo this lingering toxic legacy from the Trump Administration.
We also expect that EPA will consider the remaining risks to the public from power plants in 2022, and we hope that it will take strong action to protect the public from the nation’s largest source of toxic air pollution. Mercury, lead and other airborne poisons from power plants can damage children’s developing nervous systems and reduce their ability to think and learn. Other power plant air pollutants cause all sorts of health hazards, including cancer, heart attacks, strokes and various respiratory illnesses.
3. Holiday Hangover: Too many leftovers from the Trump Administration
After four long years of Trump’s polluter-friendly policies and deregulatory actions that put the American public in harm’s way, Biden Administration leaders had their work cut out for them. They are certainly beginning to reverse a long list of damaging decisions, but many Trump-era policies are still in place, and the Biden EPA has offered no clear timelines on when it will move on these policies. NRDC will keep pushing for bold action from federal leaders to return EPA to its fundamental mission to protect human health and the environment.
We know that burning coal, oil, and gas generates dangerous air pollution. Dirty air is deadly, and breathing it in worsens our health in scary ways—from triggering, to worsening heart disease, to contributing to cognitive decline and dementia. The best available science indicates that there is no safe level of exposure to polluted air. This problem is a global menace that accelerates millions of deaths each year around the world from all sorts of health problems, including heart and lung ailments, brain disease, and cancer. In the U.S., millions of people are still breathing in polluted air day after day, and it is imposing huge costs on our society in terms of deaths, illnesses, lost wages, and reduced worker productivity.
We’ve already suffered through four years of polluter-friendly actions that ignored dangerous air pollution and did nothing to improve public health, least of all in our nation’s most overburdened communities. We are certainly in a much better place than we were a year ago, but we can’t afford to keep waiting for clean air.