Gina McCarthy: Amid Pandemic that Attacks Lungs, EPA’s Soot Plan Chooses Not to Protect Our Lungs

WASHINGTON  – The Trump administration today dodged an opportunity to save more than 12,000 lives a year by issuing a more protective federal limit on harmful soot, choosing instead to keep the Environmental Protection Agency standard at the current level.

The move comes just days after new research from Harvard University revealed the heart and lung problems caused by breathing dirty air are making many Americans more likely to die from COVID-19.

The following is a statement from Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“This administration is passing up an opportunity to make the air cleaner for millions of Americans—choosing instead to do nothing. That’s indefensible—especially amid a health crisis that is hitting people who live in communities with high levels of air pollution the hardest.

“The current soot standard isn’t working—more than 50,000 people are dying prematurely each year under normal circumstances. EPA’s own scientists say more than 12,000 lives could be saved every year by strengthening the national limits for soot.

“This reckless decision is made even more egregious coming on the heels of two big pushes to make our air even dirtier just last week—rolling back vehicle emissions standards and giving industry a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell' policy for air pollution during the pandemic. Now more than ever, our leaders should be protecting the American people, not the polluters who are making them sick.”


Under the Clean Air Act, particulate matter, also known as soot, is among a handful of especially dangerous air pollutants covered by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which EPA is required to review and consider revising once every five years. But the last review was completed in 2012.

Under the current standard, there are an estimated 52,100 premature deaths a year. EPA’s own analysis by staff scientists showed that strengthening the standard by 25% could save 12,500 lives a year.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​



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