The Trump administration plans to keep current rules on soot pollution, even though research, including from the government, shows maintaining the standards at current levels could result in thousands of deaths.
"The current standard remains protective and does not need to be changed," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler argued on a phone call with reporters, according to The Guardian on Tuesday.
Wheeler further told reporters the EPA's review "identified a number of uncertainties" about the effects from burning coal, oil, or wood.
Under the current standard, which has remained in place since 2012, polluters are able emit soot measuring 12 micrograms a cubic meter. At that level, the EPA report shows, as many as 52,000 deaths a year, within 47 urban areas, could occur.
A Harvard study of U.S. seniors, though, shows by strengthening standards slightly to 11 micrograms, 12,000 lives a year could be saved.
The move to freeze standards come as experts warn the coronavirus pandemic has particularly burdened communities of color, which are being hit hard by the virus. It is also after President Donald Trump's announcement of lighter fuel-efficiency rules for cars.
Rachel Fullmer, a senior attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, slammed the decision, calling it the "latest in a long line of attempts to ignore and undermine the science-based assessment required when [the government] establishes national standards."
Wheeler has also disbanded a 16-member expert panel that was to review the evidence about whether air pollution rules are strong enough, instead appointing a smaller committee to advise the agency.
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