According to the American Lung Association, over 150 million Americans live in areas where smog and soot particles lead to unhealthy levels of pollution. For almost half of all Americans, simply breathing can be dangerous.
Polluted air makes our eyes burn, irritates our nose and throat, and makes breathing more difficult for children and adults with asthma. It aggravates health problems for the elderly and stresses those with heart or respiratory disease. Not only does contaminated air cause damage to our lungs, but it increases the risk of cancer, birth defects, brain and nerve damage.
According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report card and several published reports, Putnam County has one of the highest levels of particulate and ozone pollution and, in addition, the quality of the air we breathe continues to deteriorate. In New York and, for that matter, the entire Northeast, air pollution doesn’t just threaten our health, it impairs the environment. Toxic air pollutants, acid rain and ground-level ozone damage crops, weaken trees, and poison lakes and other bodies of water, harming fish and vulnerable wildlife.
According to researchers from MIT, air pollution in this country causes over 200,000 early deaths each year, along with an overwhelming number of emergency department visits and hospital admissions. Unsurprisingly, auto emissions and coal/oil-fired power plants are the greatest contributors—responsible for 50 percent of the total emissions of mercury, which is particularly dangerous to children. Almost 7 percent of women of childbearing age in this country—more than 4 million—are exposed to mercury at levels harmful for fetal brain development.
Americans are more discouraged about the quality of the environment than they have been in years and are convinced that it is getting worse. A growing majority—62 percent, according to Gallup’s annual Environment Survey—believe that government is doing too little to protect the environment and that protecting the environment should be a priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth. This majority also believes that government should promote and support solar and wind power and require higher emissions and pollution standards for industry.
Over the course of its time in office, the Trump administration has announced that the U.S. will not participate in the Paris Climate Accord; has disemboweled the EPA, rolling back numerous efforts to protect the environment; and has aggressively advanced its support of fossil fuel energy sources, especially coal.
And, just last week, Trump significantly weakened a signature Obama-era rule on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that accumulates in our lungs and is also ingested by the fish and meat we eat. Mercury poses a substantial risk to adults and is especially harmful to infants and unborn children as their brains develop.
Under Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered power plants to limit mercury and other analogous pollutants. It justified implementing those rules, promulgated in 2011, by stating that the changes would prevent thousands of deaths and save tens of billions of dollars. By 2016, all American industry had complied.
Under Trump, the newly-appointed administrator for the EPA, Andrew Wheeler—a former coal-industry lobbyist—not only disagrees, but has begun to reverse the Obama-era rules. Stating that the health benefits of restricting mercury and related particulate matter are outweighed by the regulation’s cost, the Obama rules have been pointedly weakened. “The fact that you’re cleaning up these other pollutants, these fine particles that lead to heart and lung disease, those are what you would call co-benefits, they are incidental, and they’re not directly tied to mercury. And so, we should exclude those altogether.”
Interestingly, the power-plant industry is opposed to this reversal of policy by the EPA. They want to keep the Obama-era rules in place because they have already spent the money to clean up their plants and would consider it a competitive disadvantage if suddenly things were reversed, and they had to take those scrubbers off. They also want to avoid the legal ramifications for contaminating the air we breathe.
What the hell is going on here? Well, only 15 percent of Republicans agree that the quality of the environment is worsening, and Trump plays not only to his base, but to the “almighty buck.” So, sometime in the near future, there’ll not only be Trump casinos, towers, hotels, and golf courses; sham universities; steak, wine, and vodka, but the newest product— “Trump Air”—for sale.
Find it on your supermarket shelves later this year.