Since the 2016 presidential election, the Trump administration has been rolling back as many of Obama’s environmental policies as possible. Sites that generate large amounts of pollution, such as oil and gas companies, power plants, and factories, are allowed to ignore or exceed current regulations. The globe’s air, water, and general climate has worsened as a response.
This relaxation of policies means trouble for environmental protection efforts, but there is another downfall: the impact on human health. To those who are exposed to it, air and water pollution can cause harm—primarily the lungs. According to a 2016 article from the scientific journal Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine, environmental exposures to toxicants can negatively affect the lungs of the young and elderly with inflammation and respiratory complications being a few of the noted side effects. Therefore, people with preexisting lung conditions living in heavily polluted areas are more likely to develop worse symptoms as a result.
Unfortunately, the increase in pollution has not slowed down despite the coronavirus pandemic. President Donald J. Trump chose to not apply policies that would help slow the spread of the virus and now it has slipped out of control. With the virus in full swing, people with preexisting health conditions living in polluted cities such as Fresno or Bakersfield, California, are in for the worst. These people are most likely to die from the effects of COVID-19, as the virus targets the respiratory system. For such people, the worst of the symptoms include shortness of breath and difficulty breathing—a death sentence for those already suffering with these issues.
But this is not putting a stop to deregulation. The Environmental Protection Agency is still allowing leniency and is not reversing the rollbacks already made. One of ninety-eight rollbacks, including both completed and proposed, includes a decision in December of 2018 to revise a program initially designed to safeguard communities from increases in air pollution. To encourage the use of coal over other energy sources, Trump changed the policy to allow for the emission of five hundred more pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity than the 2013 Obama administration plan. In layman’s terms, this means about 30% more carbon dioxide is being put in the atmosphere than what was being released under Obama’s administration. It is unclear if the coal industry has truly been saved by the change, however, as it appears as though none of the struggling coal mines have actually been revived.
“…People with preexisting health conditions living in polluted cities… are most likely to die from the effects of COVID-19, as the virus targets the respiratory system.
That is not the only policy with such impacts, though. An executive order given in June 2019 replaced the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have set strict limits on carbon emissions from power plants, and instead allows states to set their own rules. This new policy permits companies in republican-controlled states to set their own limits on emissions, as right-leaning governors are more inclined to a laissez-faire approach. These flexible limits save money on controlling emissions, leading companies to take advantage of these changes to save a buck.
Another executive order from late 2018 includes a proposed revision to standards for carbon dioxide emissions from new, modified, and reconstructed power plants. It has not gone into effect yet, but it is still a significant change in favor of Trump’s vision of deregulating the power industry. Such a revision would allow companies to expand their facilities so they could produce more without having to worry about the resulting carbon footprint.
These three examples are a fraction of the ninety-eight total policies being endorsed by the current administration. Together, they spell out significant trouble for those who find themselves in polluted cities with worsening conditions as the virus continues to spread.
Despite all of this, the planet heals itself in little ways. Due to social distancing, the everyday emissions caused by driving to and from work and school have been drastically reduced. There is less smog in major cities. Many restaurants, which may regularly produce emissions and waste that contributes to landfills, have reduced their opening hours, or altogether closed down. Not to mention, spring has begun as the trees grow back their leaves, and the weather grows warmer.
There is a heavy air of uncertainty regarding what the future holds for human beings against this dreadful virus, or how the earth will survive lasting pollutants such as carbon dioxide and other toxins in its atmosphere. We must bring optimism and creative solutions to the forefront as we strive for a vaccine. The Trump administration’s consideration of pollution is important to the future as well. Perhaps with a new perspective on innovation, the scientific community may finally be able to develop a solution to the other silent killer, global climate change.
Isabella Martinez is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine