If the Trump administration said it will maintain national air-quality standards put in place in 2015, would you consider that a good thing or a bad thing?

Advocates say tougher standard are necessary to protect Americans in communities that are particularly vulnerable to respiratory ailments.

But, if you’re the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Andrew Wheeler, you’d say the existing National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone are sufficient because he got some outside advisers known as the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee to recommend the agency retain the existing ozone standards. 

Yet, the EPA has their own staff of scientists who argue otherwise, but that doesn’t matter. 

So, that issue is about the ozone. What about the other pollution called soot? 

The EPA also decided to maintain the current, Obama-era standards for fine particulate matter (soot). They see no need to clean it up even a little more despite the fact that these fine particles of pollution can enter the lungs and bloodstream, causing inflammation that can lead to asthma, heart attacks and other illnesses. 

In the case of soot, the EPA staff scientists had recommended lowering the annual amount of particulate matter allowed into the air in a draft report last year, estimating such a move could save thousands of lives. But, once again, the agency’s outside advisory group was split on whether the EPA should toughen that standard.

Guess who’s living with air pollution: Poor and minority communities in the United States. Communities like Chester, PA have tended to face greater exposure to air pollution because they often are located closer to highways and industrial facilities. For instance, 

a 2019 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found, on average, communities of color in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic breathe 66 percent more air pollution from vehicles than white residents. The uneven burden of air pollution borne by such communities and by people with chronic lung and heart problems, activists say, makes tougher standards essential.

Matthew Davis, legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters, says…

“In the midst of the worsening respiratory public health crisis with tens of thousands of people being sickened daily by the coronavirus, the Trump administration is yet again doing nothing to make it easier to breathe. By not strengthening the ozone standards, the Trump administration is perpetuating environmental racism for communities of color and putting children’s developing lungs at risk.”

He said Trump is perpetuating environmental racism for communities of color, in case you missed that part.

Mr. Davis isn’t alone in his opinion. A group of 15 health-based organizations, including the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the current standards endorsed by the Trump administration are insufficient.

“EPA’s proposal violates the core purpose of these standards under the Clean Air Act: to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety.”

And then there’s the business titans of America who have a different opinion on pollution. They say that at a time when we are facing record-breaking unemployment, a lower ozone standard could slow our economic rebound and threaten manufacturing competitiveness. We shouldn’t have to choose between environmental protection and a strong economy.

Frank Macchiarola, a senior vice president at the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the nation’s oil and natural gas sector, also believes the administration had struck a proper balance. 

“EPA’s proposal to retain the current [standard] will help the U.S. continue to reduce emissions, protect public health consistent with the Clean Air Act, and enable economic growth.”

Hurrah for the economy even if ‘I Can’t Breath.’