Trump Administration Denies Limitations on Downwind Pollution in States Affected by COVID-19

By Kunaal and Arun

Despite their ongoing battle with COVID-19, New York and New Jersey, among other states, appeared in Washington D.C. to argue that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrongfully denied their petitions to place emission controls on several power plants. The regulations would aim to limit pollution affecting downwind states. While the states petitioned for stronger regulations on power plants, the EPA argued that they were in the right to deny the petition, stating that any findings that link greenhouse gas emissions to COVID-19 deaths don’t justify stronger regulation.

According to the EPA, The “Good Neighbor” Provision “requires EPA and states to address interstate transport of air pollution that affects downwind states’ ability to attain and maintain National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). New York’s petition aims to implement limits on 350 different power plants, which are industrial sources of nitrogen oxides. The EPA cites that “Tropospheric, or ground-level ozone… is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).” Tropospheric ozone is harmful to people and can worsen chronic respiratory diseases, including asthma.

COVID-19 is especially detrimental to certain groups, including those with chronic respiratory illness. A Harvard study in April “looked at more than 3,000 counties across the country, comparing levels of fine particulate air pollution with coronavirus death counts for each area.” With the findings “that an increase of only 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate” they concluded by emphasizing the “importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.”

These states now are restricted in their response to the pandemic. State governors are expressing frustration with the EPA over denying reforms that are seemingly obvious. With the effort to “flatten the curve” in the United States, experts and governors alike agree that the EPA isn’t helping the cause.

The decision made by the EPA is in accordance with their other rulings regarding mercury emissions and clean water. Because COVID-19 is worse with respiratory illnesses, the EPA is under heavy criticism from their decisions, commonly citing insufficient evidence and non-justifiable cause as backing for their decisions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the EPA has been under heavy fire, making decisions that have shocked the American public. With the future of the pandemic unknown, only time will tell what the repercussions of these decisions will be.