As Coronavirus Rages, Trump Disregards Advice to Tighten Clean Air Rules

In a letter to Mr. Wheeler, 13 Senate Democrats wrote, “Today, E.P.A. announced its decision to maintain current national ambient air quality standards that E.P.A.’s own scientists say fail to protect public health — and that research links with higher Covid-19 mortality.” The letter, signed by Senators Thomas Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Environment Committee, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, among others, demanded answers to several questions, including “How will this link between air quality and Covid-19 patient outcomes impact future E.P.A. decision-making?”

The proposed rule, which will be open to public comment for 60 days before being reviewed by the White House and made final, retains a standard enacted in 2012. That rule limited the pollution of industrial fine soot particles — each about 1/30th the width of a human hair, but associated with heart attacks, strokes and premature deaths — to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. By law, the E.P.A. is required every five years to review the latest science and update that standard.

When E.P.A. scientists conducted that mandatory review, many concluded that if the federal government tightened that standard to about nine micrograms per cubic meter, more than 10,000 American lives could be saved a year.

In a draft 457-page scientific assessment of the risks associated with keeping or strengthening the fine soot pollution rule, career scientists at the E.P.A. estimated that the current standard is “associated with 45,000 deaths” annually. The scientists wrote that if the rule were tightened to nine micrograms per cubic meter, annual deaths would fall by about 27 percent, or 12,150 people a year.

“The E.P.A.’s own scientific report is overwhelmingly in support of a tougher standard. It over and over again shows that the evidence of harmful public health effects from PM 2.5 are much greater than were previously known,” said Mr. Lazarus.

After the publication of that report, numerous industries, including oil and coal companies, automakers and chemical manufacturers, urged the Trump administration to disregard the findings and not tighten the rule.

In a November 2019 public comment submitted by 13 industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry representatives wrote, “significant uncertainty remains about the relationship between exposure to PM 2.5 and adverse effects on public health.”