The lame-duck Trump EPA is rushing to finish its health-harming agenda. Here’s what’s in danger.

On Election Day, Americans rejected the Trump administration and its relentless assault on our health and environment. But now Trump’s EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is rushing to finish a flurry of rules before Inauguration Day – rules that are a threat to the health of the American people, and rules that EDF is prepared to fight in court.

Wheeler is resuming his playbook from earlier this year, when EPA unleashed a barrage of health-harming policies just as Covid-19 was first spreading across the nation. As Americans grappled with sudden and unprecedented health, financial, and childcare challenges, Wheeler exploited the chaos by advancing a series of policies that put the health of our communities in even greater danger. Some of Wheeler’s anticipated moves now would finalize policies that were proposed during the first Covid-19 surge last spring, meaning that both ends of the rulemaking process will face reduced public scrutiny. That would hardly be surprising considering that secrecy and a disregard for public accountability have been hallmarks of the Trump administration’s health and environmental policy.

As EDF and others have repeatedly emphasized, EPA’s actions will cause the greatest harm in low-income communities and communities of color — areas that have long suffered from a disproportionate and unjust share of health-harming pollution. Many of the same communities have suffered the highest rates of Covid-19 impacts, and have struggled against voter suppression in this election season.

At EDF, we are not letting our guard down just because the Trump administration’s days are numbered. We have repeatedly prevailed in court against Wheeler’s attacks on our health and environment, and we are prepared to fight against dangerous policies that the administration finalizes during its waning weeks.

Here are a few of Wheeler’s threats to the nation’s climate and air quality that we are tracking:

  • Censored Science: Wheeler has proposed to restrict EPA’s ability to consider health science when setting pollution standards. His argument is that EPA should not use scientific studies unless all the underlying data is made public – no matter how carefully validated and vetted those studies may be, and even when there are important reasons, such as protecting patient privacy, why disclosure of the data may not be possible. By blinding itself to rigorous health science, EPA could set standards that are too weak to protect Americans from harmful pollutants and toxic chemicals. From the beginning, it has been clear that this proposal targets specific studies opposed by polluters, including key studies showing the lethal effects of particle pollution (see below). The rule is currently undergoing White House review — the last step before it is finalized.
  • Cost-Benefit Distortions: Wheeler has proposed arbitrary requirements for the agency’s consideration of costs and benefits in major rules under the Clean Air Act. The proposal would deceptively place disproportionate emphasis on the costs of clean air protections, while placing barriers in the way of fully considering public health and other benefits — cooking the books in an attempt to justify exposing Americans to more harm. It would also impose onerous and pointless new procedures that could lead to delays and legal vulnerabilities for future Clean Air Act protections. This rule is also currently undergoing White House review.
  • Ozone Standards: Wheeler has proposed not to strengthen the national ambient air quality standards for ozone, despite clear evidence that more stringent standards are necessary to protect Americans and comply with Clean Air Act requirements. The ozone covered by these standards is the principal component of smog, which is linked to premature deaths, thousands of emergency room visits, and tens of thousands of asthma attacks every year. Smog can also severely damage forests and plants, causing harms that affect entire ecosystems. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set standards at a level that protects public health with an adequate margin of safety, and that accurately reflects the latest scientific knowledge — requirements that EPA’s proposal manifestly violates. Wheeler issued this proposal on August 14, and the public comment period closed on October 1.
  • Particle Pollution Standards: Wheeler has proposed not to strengthen the national ambient air quality standards for particle pollution. Particle pollution results in tens of thousands of deaths per year in the U.S. Like the ozone proposal, the particle pollution proposal defies clear scientific evidence and legal mandates. It provides no margin of safety and resulted from a review process that marginalized scientific expertise. Wheeler issued this proposal on April 30, and the public comment period closed on June 29.

EDF is prepared to fight these and other dangerous policies that the Trump administration may finalize before leaving office. After Inauguration Day, we will also keep working to reverse earlier Trump administration actions that are harmful to Americans’ health and safety, like undermining the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and rolling back the Clean Car Standards.

We are also working on bold, new steps to protect Americans’ right to clean air and a safe climate, and we will look for more opportunities for meaningful progress with the new administration.

This entry was posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Health, News, Policy, Smog. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Posted November 24, 2020 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Your post was really helpful. Just what I needed. Thank you!

  2. Posted November 24, 2020 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the step-by-step illustration. Even for a new learner like me, i have learnt so much.

  3. Posted November 25, 2020 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Good article