Wheeler dismisses study claiming EPA’s role in high air pollution and COVID-19 cases


The study linked the EPA’s relaxed application during the pandemic to higher air pollution and cases of COVID-19.

US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler said he had not read a study linking the agency’s relaxed pollution enforcement during the pandemic to the increased air pollution and increased cases and deaths from COVID-19.

The to study by researchers at American University was widely reported earlier this month. He used the EPA’s daily air quality readings to find a 13% increase in pollution in counties with six or more installations required to comply with routine reporting requirements. The EPA said it was freezing efforts to enforce routine compliance requirements on March 26.

“I haven’t seen this study yet,” Wheeler said in response to Energy News Network’s question last week at an event in Lakewood, Ohio, where he announced federal waste cleanup grants. in the Great Lakes.

Wheeler called the changes procedural. He also boasted a claim that air pollution has decreased by 7% since President Donald Trump took office, although he acknowledged that factors other than regulation were at work.

“Certainly some of the air reductions are attributed to the change of fuel in the electric power industry, but that’s not all,” Wheeler said. The fuel switch refers to a greater reliance on natural gas as the coal market has continued to decline, despite the Trump administration’s efforts to support the coal industry.

The lakeside appearance came about three weeks after the publication of updated research by American University researchers Claudia Persico and Kathryn Johnson, linking increased pollution to more cases and deaths from COVID- 19.

The analysis found that counties where the EPA’s rollback may have supported an increase in air pollution had an average of 39% more COVID-19 cases and 19% more deaths due. to the virus.

The particular setback the team focused on was a March 26 announcement that the EPA would freeze enforcement efforts for routine compliance reports during pandemic if self-reporting of pollution levels was more difficult due to the pandemic. The memorandum also suggested that the EPA might not seek civil penalties for exceeding permit limits if the violations were pandemic-related.

The EPA’s civilian enforcement efforts largely depend on this self-declaration, Persico said. The study looked at data collected from sensors in counties with six or more sites that are required to report pollution emissions. Persico and Johnson then compared the timing of these short-term pollution changes with county data from Johns Hopkins University on COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“We find that the increase in pollution resulting from the decline in the application of the EPA has resulted in a large and statistically significant increase in COVID-19-related cases and deaths,” the researchers wrote. The findings are based on other research that has related pollution to the health conditions that worsen cases of COVID-19.

“It’s expensive to regulate pollution from a business perspective,” Persico said. But the EPA relies on routine business reports as the basis for its enforcement. And companies do routine reporting because otherwise they may be subject to separate and additional penalties.

“If you remove the penalties, it could be cheaper from a business perspective to emit more pollution,” Persico said. And even if companies do not intentionally decide to exceed their license limits, relaxed requirements for doing routine reporting could arguably mean a longer delay before companies do anything to resolve situations that lead to them. violations.

The EPA may well continue to enforce blatant cases, so Wheeler’s claim that the change does not affect the amount of pollution companies are allowed to emit may have “partial truth,” Persico said. “But overall what I find is that the overall effect was to increase pollution.”

Even before the pandemic, other researchers had noted an increase in air pollution since Trump took office, Persico said. She cited a 2019 report to special case for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Certain counties in Ohio failed to meet one or more standards in 2018, 2019 and 2020, even though the agency had not changed its compliance status, according to EPA data. The EPA also said Atlantic last year that increased levels particulate matter and ozone were likely due to forest fires and weather conditions.

Both types of events are becoming more and more frequent and extreme due to climate change. Experts also linked health problems from climate change to nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds and particulates released from the combustion of fossil fuels.

The Trump administration canceled the Clean diet plan to fight against climate change and its replacement has been criticized for potentially leading to more deaths. July 14 General Accounting Office The report also found that the EPA significantly underestimated the economic damage caused by climate change in order to justify its plan.

The EPA has engaged in dozens of other deregulation measures designed to ease industry compliance obligations, as reported on the Brookings Institution’s interactive site. tracker.

“The Trump administration has taken steps that enable greater global pollution by continuing to rescind Clean Air Act regulatory standards, inadmissibly distorting certain ozone-free zone designations by bypassing science solid and inappropriately injecting political pressure to overturn the fact-based decisions of agency staff, ”said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

“The policies of the Trump administration are harmful to cleaner, healthier air for all Americans,” Learner added.

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