EPA Particulate Matter Decision Puts Science, Health Aside to Protect Polluters

Statement by Gretchen Goldman, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Apr 14, 2020

WASHINGTON (April 14, 2020)—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it would not strengthen standards for particulate matter pollution (known as PM), against the recommendations of an independent panel of experts and EPA’s own scientists. The agency has made this announcement in the midst of a national public health crisis. This decision is the result of a skewed process that abandons science, public health and the EPA’s mission, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Below is a statement by Dr. Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.

“Administrator Andrew Wheeler has rigged this process to get the result he wanted—no strengthening of standards to protect people from the harmful effects of particulate pollution. This decision comes as no surprise, but it’s appalling nonetheless.

At every step, EPA’s political leadership have elbowed scientists out of the process of setting clean air rules. This started under disgraced former administrator Scott Pruitt, but Wheeler has worsened it. EPA leaders have ignored the findings of their own staff scientists that today’s standards don’t adequately protect our health. They dismissed an advisory panel of particulate matter experts, deliberately leaving the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee in the dark and unable to conduct a robust review of the evidence. When that Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel convened last fall on their own, they found that particulate pollution poses an even bigger health threat than we once thought, and that current standards don’t protect public health. Confronted with this body of evidence and the recommendations of the nation’s top experts on PM, Wheeler has simply ignored them, putting politics over public health.

“The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set standards for pollutants like particulate matter based on the best available science, with the goal of protecting public health. Today’s decision is a willful abandonment of that obligation, at a real cost to human life.

“It’s especially egregious that EPA is making this announcement in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic—a public health crisis that evidence increasingly suggests is dangerous to people living in areas with higher air pollution levels.

“Wheeler spent much of his career lobbying on behalf of powerful industries like coal producers, and it’s clear he sees his job at the EPA as a continuation of that work. Nearly every decision he’s made has been aimed at making it easier and cheaper to pollute, in defiance of science, the public interest, and the EPA’s public health mission he’s supposed to carry out. In the face of our current crisis, this indifference to our health is inexcusable.”

PM pollution, especially fine particulate matter or PM2.5, is one of the most common and dangerous forms of pollution, linked to adverse effects on respiratory and cardiovascular health.