President Trump directs EPA to ease air quality rules he says suffocates industry. EPA director Scott Pruitt confirmed that President Donald Trump will sign an executive order to roll back Obama-era power-plant environmental-protection regulations.
WASHINGTON—President Trump`s latest effort to boost the nation`s manufacturing sector is an industry-friendly rewrite of air quality regulations he says pose unnecessary and outdated barriers to growth.
But environmental advocates warn it would be another damaging step by an administration obsessed with deregulation at the expense of hard-fought public health protections.
The proposed loosening of air quality standards came in the form of a directive Trump issued Thursday instructing the EPA to work with states that have metro areas which failed to attain clean air standards. The president`s primary aim, the directive states, is promoting domestic manufacturing and job creation.
Dozens of communities across the country fail to meet Clean Air Act standards for at least one of six key pollutants — ground-level ozone (smog), particulate matter (soot or smoke), carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide — according to the EPA.
Building or expanding major projects, such as highways and manufacturing plants, in these non-attainment areas requires extra time and cost to make sure the increased industrial activity won`t worsen air quality. And states with non-attainment areas have to file plans with the EPA to show how they`re confronting the problem, a review process that can take years.
Trump`s directive orders the EPA to work with states to expedite those approvals and instructs the agency to consider whether the current process should be revised or rescinded ... to provide states with additional implementation flexibility.
These actions are intended to ensure that EPA carries out its core missions of protecting the environment and improving air quality in accord with statutory requirements, while reducing unnecessary impediments to new manufacturing and business expansion essential for a growing economy, the president said in a statement accompanying the order.
The directive comes at a time when the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been under increasing bipartisan fire on Capitol Hill for a number of management missteps, spending decisions and potential ethical conflicts.
The president has staunchly defended Pruitt, largely because Trump and his conservative allies applaud how aggressively the EPA is rolling back regulations and promoting economic growth.
In the 14 months he`s been the nation`s top environmental rulemaker, the former Oklahoma attorney general who sued the EPA more than a dozen times has rolled back the Clean Power Plan, rescinded the Waters of the U.S. rule, and helped convince the president to back out of the Paris Accord on climate change, among a number of changes.
And Trump`s vow to bring back coal, important in mining states like West Virginia where he just visited, have been buoyed by Pruitt`s actions.
The air quality directive doesn’t instruct the EPA to revise the air quality standards themselves.
Instead, environmental advocates worry the administration would try to circumvent clean air standards without congressional say-so by pursuing steps that could make it easier for industry to meet current regulations without being required to improve the quality of the air Americans breathe every day.
One of those steps, they say, would allow states to expand the size of non-attainment areas to include areas with cleaner air so that overall pollutant levels meet environmental standards. Another would permit the EPA to discount many studies used as the basis for air quality standards for a lack of “transparency” because those analyses use individual health data that can’t be disclosed because they`re protected under federal privacy laws.
This is a backhanded way of weakening the most important and sacrosanct provision of the clean Air Act and he`s no doing it through any normal legislative process, said Bill Becker, former executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies which represents state regulators.
Trump’s action empowers Pruitt to ignore science and data in determining compliance with air quality standards, said Sara Jordan, Legislative Representative for the League of Conservation Voters.
By directing the EPA to reconsider all of its past guidance from the (federal air quality) program, Trump is threatening clean air protections for cities across the country, she said. This is yet another example of this administration selling out our future to industry polluters.
Industry representatives say the maze of federal rules governing a slew of environmental and health standards are unnecessary and burdensome. If states had more wiggle room in how they measure and apply air quality standards, thousands of jobs could be created, they said.
“Over the years, regulations on air quality have become so complicated that it can be nearly impossible for manufacturers to secure the needed approvals just to open a new facility, said Ross Eisenberg, Vice President for Energy and Resources Policy with the National Association of Manufacturers.
EPA officials point out that much progress has been made on air quality in recent decades. Levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NOx), for example, have dropped by more than 50 percent since 2000. There are no monitors in the U.S. currently measuring pollution above those standards.
The order encourages federal and state regulators to speed up reviews of air quality permits, echoing Trump`s call for quicker approvals involving infrastructure projects such as bridges, roads and pipelines.
But Becker said that comes off as a hollow demand considering the president`s budget calls for significant cuts in EPA personnel and state environmental grants that help pay for such reviews.
One of the most troubling aspects of Trump`s order is that it`s directing an agency established to reduce pollution to make job creation an express priority, said John Walke, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council`s clean air program.
The memo encourages reliance on air pollution modeling for deregulatory purposes or permits desired by industry, but not for regulatory purposes that would better protect Americans, he said.
Photo: Smog covers Midtown Manhattan in New York City. Source: Adam Rountree, AP.
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