Have we forgotten that pollution kills? Apparently the Trump administration has or never actually believed that pollution is a serious threat to our health and well-being.
Let’s be reminded that pollution through toxic chemicals, fine particulate matter and indirectly through greenhouse gasses contributes to cancers, respiratory conditions including asthma and COPD exacerbations, heart disease, birth defects, developmental problems in children, brain and nervous system damage and ultimately premature death.
The Trump administration has rolled back or proposed reversal of over 60 Environmental Protection Agency regulations benefiting industry at the expense of human health. What is good for business sometimes is really bad for health. We might as well rename the EPA as the Industrial Protection Agency.
While the media is consumed with the latest Presidential tweets and disgraces, we are distracted from the reality that this administration is creating a public health debacle. Pollution generally kills and maims slowly, so it’s easy to become distracted and lose sight of the fact that this administration is quietly assaulting some of our most important public health protections.
It has been estimated that the cost of the Trump environmental agenda thus far may lead to 80,000 extra deaths per decade and more than a million extra cases of respiratory disease. This is a small fraction of the potential total human cost if the full range of Trump rollbacks proposed is actualized. The most affected are children, the elderly, people with cardiopulmonary disease, low income individuals, African-Americans and other racial minorities and workers exposed to chemicals in industry. Geographic areas with high concentrations of power plants including the Ohio River Valley from Indiana to Pennsylvania and in the southeast from Alabama to Maryland will also be most injured.
The Trump administration’s completed, ongoing and planned rollbacks have included freezing or relaxing automobile and truck emission standards, rather than proceeding with progressive regulations supported by much of the automobile industry. Other attacks or proposed actions on public health include the repeal of the Clean Power Plan that would require each state to meet lower power plant emission standards, weakening of the Clean Air Act and leaving the Paris Climate Agreement. Challenging reasonable rules that mitigate natural gas pollution, tariffs on imported solar panels, subsidizing the use of dirty coal, weakening oversight and loosening of regulations on toxic chemicals including lead, coal ash deposits in waterways and agricultural pesticides are just some of other misguided policy positions.
The latest insult by Trump’s EPA is an anti-scientific and anti-intellectual proposal to greatly restrict the scientific research that the agency would be permitted to use when considering new protections. The proposal would make it impermissible to use studies utilizing any data that is not entirely public (some data are kept private, mostly for reasons of protecting personal health information). These are the kind of studies the agency has relied upon for years to institute safeguards such as the Clean Air Act, and the very type of studies that were used in the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health.
This is nothing more than an effort to limit the effectiveness of the EPA to protect human health. This is nothing more than censoring science. It is not an honest attempt, as the administration claims, to provide transparency to the decision-making process.
It is perfectly predicable that Trump and his underlings would pursue this irrational, reckless and anti-intellectual path. But how can a rational society allow all this to occur?
Richard Feldman, M.D., is an Indianapolis family physician and the former Indiana State Health commissioner. Send comments to [email protected].