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SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: April 15, 2020

SNIP: Sweeping aside a broad body of evidence that air pollution is killing as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year, the Trump administration on Tuesday rejected government scientists’ recommendation that it strengthen the national air quality standard for fine soot.

The proposal to maintain the current standard for PM 2.5—microscopic particles known as fine particulate matter—in the face of alarming new science documenting its potentially deadly health effects, is a win for the fossil fuel industry. It comes amid a frenzy of major decision-making at the Environmental Protection Agency that critics say is designed to secure the Trump administration’s pro-industry legacy in the face of an uncertain future.

The Trump EPA has raced to loosen or reject a slew of clean air protections, even as the nation has been brought to a virtual standstill by a highly contagious virus that can produce serious or even fatal respiratory symptoms. In the last month, the Trump EPA has weakened fuel economy standards, advanced a proposal to discount the findings of scientific studies on health in rulemaking and announced a blanket suspension of the enforcement of environmental laws.

The decision to maintain the status quo on PM 2.5 was especially striking in the context of the pandemic, and came just days after Harvard researchers released preliminary results of a study showing that U.S. counties with high PM 2.5 levels have higher coronavirus death rates.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, dismissed that study, saying it had not yet been peer reviewed and published. But he also decided to give little weight to eight large epidemiological studies published over the last seven years, all of which were peer-reviewed and indicated that the current PM 2.5 standard was inadequate.

At the same time that Wheeler was making his announcement on Tuesday, the Union of Concerned Scientists hosted an extraordinary “shadow hearing” to focus on a separate, but related EPA action—a plan to restrict the use of science at the agency. The proposed rule, called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” would restrict the EPA’s use of certain epidemiological studies in its decision-making, including some of the most important studies on the dangers of PM 2.5. If approved, the rule could make it difficult for the EPA to strengthen PM 2.5 standards after Trump leaves office.