On Feb 24, President Trump signed an executive order that established a policy to relieve the country of “unnecessary regulatory burdens.” Trump’s environmental agenda includes the destruction of Obama’s not-yet-implemented Clean Power Plan, a rollback of fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles, and a rule by which for every regulation put in place, two must be eliminated. Trump has also stated that he intends to cut the budget of the EPA by 31 percent and boost the coal industry.
The president’s agenda is broad, so it may be useful to focus on individual aspects of it. According to an analysis by the EPA, the Clean Power Plan is expected to be a boon to Americans’ health and productivity. If fully implemented, it is projected to do the following:
- Prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths each year
- Prevent up to 1,700 heart attacks each year
- Prevent up to 90,000 asthma attacks each year
- Prevent up to 300,000 missed work days and school days each year
When you look at the EPA’s projections, it becomes clear that the president’s deregulation agenda represents an attack on human health.
If you live in Central PA, there is plenty of evidence to make a case for environmental regulation.
The importance of federal support and oversight
Trump and his EPA administrator Scott Pruitt want to shrink the agency and decrease the degree to which it oversees state environmental regulation agencies.
Jim Sandoe, who teaches and writes about environmental issues and who works with legislators to achieve environmental gains, pointed out the consequences for Pennsylvanians as a result of Trump’s defunding of the EPA, which oversees and partially funds the state DEP. The DEP’s budget will likely be cut 6.5 percent next year, and a massive cut to the EPA could result in an even bigger cut for the state agency, he said.
Meanwhile, the EPA has issued Pennsylvania a water-quality warning because the state does not have enough staff to inspect all of its public water utilities. Rather than adding the necessary funding to the DEP’s budget so the agency could fill vacant positions, the state government is now considering funding the vacant inspector positions with a fee that would be paid by water consumers.
Seven new inspectors could be hired in Sept. 2018.
But there’s more, Sandoe said, exasperated. In order to fulfill its commitment to ensuring that Pennsylvanians have safe drinking water, the state would actually need to hire 30 more inspectors on top of those seven.
“Our legislators won’t fund the DEP,” Sandoe said. “You can see the runaway truck coming down the hill, and you don’t bother to get the kids out of the street.”
Local air pollution
Central PA is already in a sorry state, pollution-wise. Ad Crable reported on Lancaster Online last spring that Lancaster County had the worst soot pollution east of Utah.
Sandoe said that coal affects our air quality. “We get a lot of particulates from coal, which is a big driver for asthma,” he said. In addition to coal pollution, Lancastrians are subjected to heavy phosphorus and nitrogen pollution in the air and water; this comes from the fertilizer used on farms and on lawns. Methane pollution blows over from the western part of the state, where fracking is common.
Brunner Island power plant, in York County, has begun to replace some of the coal it burns with natural gas, which when burned produces less pollution. But obscuring this ray of hope for locals is Perdue’s plan to build a soybean plant in Conoy Twp. in Lancaster. Perdue will use a process that results in the release of the potent toxin hexane, which is a precursor to ozone pollution, Sandoe said.
How does pollution hurt our bodies?
Dr. Alan Peterson, emeritus director of environmental and community medicine at Lancaster General Health, answered a few questions about the nature of environmental pollution.
First of all, what is ozone?
Peterson explained that ozone is three atoms of oxygen attached. It is produced during the hottest parts of the year from nitrogen oxide and pollution from cars and industry.
Peterson explained some of the effects that pollution can have on the body.
“Ozone particles are breathed in and they cause inflammation at the cellular level in the lungs,” he said. “The more inflammation there is, the harder it is to breathe, and the more swelling of the tissues. It can cause asthma or make it worse.” Asthma rates are on the rise, especially in children, he said.
Pollution also affects people with COPD and other respiratory conditions, he said.
And while the respiratory system provides the toxic particles a way into the body, the damage doesn’t end there. Pollution can exacerbate or cause problems in the circulatory system and other organ systems.
“Pollution has been shown to increase rates of strokes,” Peterson said. “Heart arrhythmia gets worse in the presence of ozone.”