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Coronavirus Won’t Stop the Trump Administration From Destroying the Environment

One of the most consistent and dangerous hallmarks of Donald Trump’s presidency thus far has been the Trump administration’s continued efforts to roll back environmental regulations. The administration has gutted more than 90 environmental rules and regulations since the president took office, from headline-grabbing moves like pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, to cutting emissions standards, clean water rules, and bans on pesticides, among other rollbacks. (This is all on top of the administration routinely downplaying and lying about climate change, of course.) And is the administration’s parade of harmful environmental moves about to stop now just because the country is the midst of a global pandemic? Apparently not!

The New York Times reports that federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department are on an “aggressive timeline” to roll back half-a-dozen environmental regulations over the next month alone, as the Trump administration races to make all the anti-environmental moves they can before Democrats potentially take power after the November election. The planned environmental rollbacks include weakening fuel efficiency standards and regulations on toxic ash and mercury emissions, as well as ensuring that federal infrastructure projects will no longer have to take climate change into consideration. Employees at the Interior Department are also under “strict orders” to immediately complete a rule change that eliminates protections for migratory birds, by removing punishments for oil and gas companies who “incidentally” kill birds during their operations.

Perhaps most crucial to the current moment, however, is the EPA’s intention to force through a rule that would limit what scientific studies the EPA can use when writing or revising public health rules. The agency would now prioritize studies that make their underlying data publicly available, supposedly in order to boost transparency. But as studies often rely on confidentiality agreements with their subjects, especially when it comes to things like health data, critics fear the rule would instead be used to significantly curb scientific and medical research and have dangerous health and environmental impacts. “This means the EPA can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths,” Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, told the Times in November.

Those concerns have now been thrown into even sharper relief amid the coronavirus outbreak, given that the rule could be used to block research on COVID-19 when dealing with the current outbreak or future pandemics. “A lot of the science needed to effectively respond to this pandemic would not be available if this rule existed today,” James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform, told the Independent, pointing to studies that have led EPA guidance on issues like which hand sanitizers can effectively kill the coronavirus. In a letter to EPA head Andrew Wheeler calling for the rule to be revoked, Senator Tom Carper, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, wrote that “the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of ensuring rapid access and response to scientific information, as well as the utilization of that information.” “Unfortunately, if this rule is finalized, I fear the result will be just the opposite,” Carper added. (EPA spokeswoman Andrea Woods claimed to the Times that these fears are “unfounded,” saying the regulation “would not limit or impede E.P.A.’s authority to undertake” responses to the coronavirus or other emergencies.)

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