Despite evidence of the harmful effects of air pollution on people with COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, the Trump administration has decided against tightening soot standards. The Environmental Protection Agency instead will lock in limits put in place by President Obama's administration in 2012 for another five years. Experts inside and outside the administration had asked for stricter rules, the Washington Post reports. EPA scientists recommended a range, the middle of which would save 9,050 to 34,600 lives each year. Soot is the most pervasive and fatal air pollutant in the US, coming from vehicle exhaust, power plants, burning wood and other sources. Officials elsewhere in the administration had warned the EPA that its air quality policies will disproportionately affect people in minority and low-income communities.
"I got multiple recommendations," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told reporters Monday. "Every scientist can take a look at this and reach a different conclusion." Despite the EPA scientists' recommendation, Wheeler said the evidence isn't strong enough to require any changes, per the New York Times. An EPA advisory committee split on the issue. An advocacy group that wants tighter standards called the decision outrageous. "It builds in years more of assaults on the human body," the co-founder of Moms Clean Air Force said, "especially in places where people are breathing the worst of it." The US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute supported the EPA, saying there's less soot in the air than there was in 2000. In West Virginia, a deputy attorney general called it a victory for his state's coal industry. "This is only possible when you have reasonable and understanding leadership in the federal government," he said. (Read more air quality stories.)