EPA's Rush of Favors to Polluters Is Reckless and Deadly

Part of NRDC's Series Reviewing 2020 Climate & Clean Energy Developments

In only a matter of weeks, EPA's cynical political leaders have forced through several major rules in defiance of science and the law.

Air pollution was recently ranked as the fourth leading risk factor for ill health worldwide.

In a Quartet of Polluter-Friendly Giveaways, the Trump Administration’s EPA has been racing against the clock to cement its legacy of disregard for human health, science, and the law.

December’s Parting Grifts

As the Trump Administration prepares to pack up, a group of political appointees at EPA spent all of December burning the midnight (rule) oil to ease the path for polluters to sicken us for years to come.

Over the past four weeks alone, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed last minute rules declining to strengthen smog and soot limits, cripple the use of science, and undercut the benefits of clean air all amidst a global health crisis.

Out of Date Limits for Smog and Soot Pollution

First, in a move that surprised no one, Administrator Wheeler ignored the advice of his own career scientists made good on his promises to leave federal limits for smog and soot pollution at their current—inadequate, unsafe—levels and putting the health of tens of millions of people at risk.

We know that air pollution kills. It’s a global menace that contributes to millions of early deaths each year from heart disease, lung ailments, and cancer. In the U.S., millions of people are breathing in polluted air day after day and it’s imposing huge costs on our society in terms of deaths, illnesses, and reduced worker productivity.

What’s more, EPA’s weak smog and soot limits:

  • Disregard recent evidence that long-term exposure to air pollution heightens the risk of severe complications and even death from COVID-19
  • Fail to protect people especially vulnerable to air pollution, including children, older people, and marginalized communities that are disproportionately burdened by polluted air
  • Undermine and misrepresent science by falsely claiming that the available evidence does not warrant stronger limits on pollution
  • Lean heavily on the discredited views of industry sympathizers that currently occupy the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) who themselves acknowledged an inability to interpret the science, instead of following the scientific advice of leading experts,
  • Follow from a rushed and corrupt review process that Wheeler’s EPA rushed through at lightning speed to finalize during Trump’s term

Censoring Science and Stacking the Deck Against Clean Air Protections

In another polluter pairing, the Trump administration has also rushed forward with two dangerous plans to hamstring clean air protections going forward, both without any basis in law.

In late December, Administrator Wheeler finalized a rule aimed at making it easier for the agency to ignore the benefits of clean air protections and allowing industry groups to impede rulemaking.

The Administration then followed this up announced a dangerous plan to censor critical scientific research – like medical studies, personal health data, and clinical reports – severely limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to set stronger limits on pollution that protect our health, our environment, and our clean air and water.

The Agency drew this rule directly from the Tobacco industry’s playbook, and is a hail Mary attempt to dismantle the scientific foundation for our nation’s bedrock clean air and clean water rules. The rule directly enables political interference in EPA’s time-tested science review processes, and carves out exceptions for regulated industry to advance its own, questionable studies for agency consideration in setting new pollution limits and updating existing ones—all while subjecting peer-reviewed science to burdensome and unworkable requirements.

EPA cut unprecedented corners in its race to finalize these polluter parting gifts, and all during a historic respiratory disease pandemic. For all these rules, the Agency shortened periods for public comment, ignored scientific advice from experts, and leaned on flawed studies and industry sympathizers to justify its shoddy work.

And in order to accomplish its last-minute effort to cement its pro-polluter legacy, the Agency rushed through the interagency review process for these rules and made the rules effective immediately - flouting decades of norms of administrative law.

If we didn’t know better after four long years, we’d say they should be ashamed of themselves.

EPA Must Return To Its Mission To Protect Human Health and The Environment

But the good news is that the incoming Biden-Harris Administration has made clear that it is committed to restoring scientific and legal integrity at the EPA. All of these reckless decisions by the outgoing Administration can and should be swiftly undone by the new administration. The incoming administration has signaled it will make restoring the EPA’s mission to protect people over polluters a top priority. It’s time our government stopped helping polluters make us sick.

About the Authors

Emily Davis

Senior Attorney, Climate & Clean Energy Program

John Walke

Director, Clean Air, Climate & Clean Energy Program

Vijay Limaye

Staff Scientist, Science Center
Blog Post

On its way out the door, Trump undermines the Clean Air Act and public health in a profound way.

Blog Post

In defiance of science and the law, EPA attempts to halt 50 years of progress.

Blog Post

EPA now intends to greatly expand its science censorship agenda.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.