The Trump Administration continued its final sprint to lock in weakened or outdated environmental rules this week with the decision to maintain an air quality standard that many scientists say fails to protect the public.
The decision re-establishes a limit defined in 2012 for fine particulate matter, better known as soot. Under the Clean Air Act, the federal government is required to regularly review the latest science to determine if its standards for pollutants are strong enough to protect public health and welfare. These National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, are used to evaluate air across the country.
During the latest review, though, researchers say that the Environmental Protection Agency ignored the overwhelming evidence that the standard must be strengthened, especially to protect groups most vulnerable to pollution. Laura Van Winkle, a toxicologist studying air pollution and lung disease at the University of California, Davis, says she was disappointed with the decision. “The data clearly shows that we have health effects at the current NAAQS,” she says. “The data clearly support that we need a more protective standard.”
The decision is also likely to be challenged in court, where it’s possible it will be deemed arbitrary and capricious because it ignored available evidence about health impacts, says Janet McCabe, director of the Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana University and a former EPA air quality official under Barack Obama.