Last week, the Trump administration cut a deal with Gov. Scott Walker to exempt much of southeast Wisconsin from having to comply with the latest federal limits on lung-damaging smog.
It’s an area that already has poor air quality, but it is also where Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn is building a new plant. Critics argue that the move is intended to save Foxconn and other businesses the expense of meeting the new, higher standard.
In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency also plans to scrap Obama-era rules that required automakers to make their cars progressively more fuel-efficient.
As EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt takes a very different approach from his immediate predecessors on protecting air quality, what will be the impact on our air and health?
Janet McCabe played a lead role in shaping the Clean Air Act as the acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation in the Obama administration. She is now a senior law fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, where she works to advance polices to promote clean air and safe drinking water.
McCabe thinks the Trump administration’s move to exempt areas of Wisconsin from having to meet the latest air quality standards is likely to face legal challenges. But in the short term, it will mean dirty air.
“I expect there may well be people living in areas where the air quality is unhealthy who won’t know about it. And that states like Wisconsin will not be putting in measures to reduce those emissions,” McCabe said.
“This is administrative decision making by the (EPA). They have to lay out their reasoning to the satisfaction of a court -- if a case gets challenged … I think that based on past precedent that some of these decisions are not adequately supported by the factual information that the agency has.”
As for the decision to scrap the rules that require new cars to be more fuel-efficient, McCabe is both dismayed and concerned.
“This was a really remarkable and positive agreement between the automakers and the federal government and California on a long-trajectory plan that would make vehicles get considerably cleaner over time in a way the preserved the automakers’ ability to be as flexible as possible to build the kind of cars that people want,” she said. “It’s very discouraging to see this administration basically disregarding the success that the auto industry has had in the six years since those laws were put in place and suggest we need a lower level of ambition. Cars emit about one-third of the pollution in this country – greenhouse gas pollution but also pollution in our neighborhoods. They are all over the country. Everybody uses them and (higher fuel-efficiency standards) are one of the best ways of improving air quality in this country.”
McCabe joins host Phil Ponce to discuss her time at the EPA and her concerns.