Strike another win for the fossil companies and another loss for the people. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the withdrawal of a key provision of the Clean Air Act. Following this move, hundreds of U.S. industrial facilities will be allowed to dramatically increase their emissions of the most toxic air pollutants.

Image credits: Petter Rudwall.

The EPA has removed the “once-in always-in” policy under the Clean Air Act, which oversaw the regulation of hazardous air pollutant emissions for large-scale polluters. Under the new interpretation, major sources such as coal power plants can be reclassified, allowing them to follow different standards and emit much more than they were allowed to do before now.

This move is only the latest in a worrying series of environmental rollbacks issued by the Trump Administration. John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says this decision is among the most dangerous yet.

“This is among the most dangerous actions that the Trump EPA has taken yet against public health. Rolling back longstanding protections to allow the greatest increase in hazardous air pollutants in our nation’s history is unconscionable.”

“This move drastically weakens protective limits on air pollutants like arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxins that cause cancer, brain damage, infertility, developmental problems and even death. And those harmed most would be nearby communities already suffering a legacy of pollution. NRDC will fight this terrible decision to unleash toxic pollutants with every available tool.”

The move highlights President Donald Trump’s relentless efforts to roll back federal environmental regulations. The withdrawal of this particular policy was sought by utilities, the petroleum industry, and other large-polluters. But in their zeal to roll back such regulations, they seem to have forgotten the best interests of citizens and focus overwhelmingly on corporate industrial interests. There is good reason to believe that while this will ease the regulatory burden on corporations, it will have massive consequences on the health of US citizens.

“The possibility seems very likely that some [downgraded] sources could actually increase their emissions as long as they don’t hit the cap,” said Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy at the American Lung Association, who added that changing these rules would remove an important tool for the public to enforce air quality laws.

In recent times, the EPA seems to have become the antithesis of what it stands for. Instead of ensuring environmental and health protection, under Scott Pruitt, the agency has become a fiefdom where industry lobbying — especially coming from coal and oil — can get pretty much everything it asks for. Scientists have been swiftly removed by industry reps, and just recently, an EPA representative said that the air is “a bit too clean for human health” — well, the recent rollback should certainly help with that.

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