Donald Trump’s disdain for the federal regulations that protect the air, water, and treasured wild places was never really in doubt. But it is likely to affect national policy for generations to come, given the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which Pruitt has sued multiple times.
Since his confirmation, Pruitt has staffed EPA positions with fellow climate-change skeptics who share his vision for undoing regulations like the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to decrease greenhouse gases from electric power plants.
He has also announced a plan to scuttle standards that require automakers to build more electric, hybrid, and fuel-efficient cars. Those restrictions are meant to reduce tailpipe emissions that contribute to global warming, but automakers complained to Trump that the rules went too far. Twelve Democrats, including Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, sent a letter to Pruitt stating that it is “critical” that these standards “remain in place,” but it’s more likely that the carmakers will get their way.
This week, the potential long-term generational toll became painfully clear when the World Health Organization released two startling reports that say environmental hazards claim 1.7 million children under the age of 5 worldwide every year.
That’s 25 percent of all infant and preschooler deaths, from such causes as malaria, pneumonia, and gastrointestinal problems linked to various environmental factors, including contaminated air and water. These exposures can begin in the mother’s womb and also lead to increases in premature births, according to the report “Inheriting a Sustainable World: Atlas on Children’s Health and the Environment.”
“A polluted environment is a deadly one — particularly for young children,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director general. “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.”
Young children exposed to air pollution have an increased risk of childhood pneumonia, asthma, and other chronic respiratory diseases. They can suffer physical and mental developmental problems. For the rest of their lives, they remain more susceptible to strokes, cancer, and heart disease. Yet with proper regulations and protections to decrease environmental risks, these health issues are preventable.
Throughout his candidacy and now as president, Trump has made no secret of his belief that environmental regulations hinder businesses; he has already signed legislation to scrap restrictions safeguarding waterways from coal-mining waste. But WHO officials strongly believe those regulations save lives.
“Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits,” said Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “I want those figures in the report to provoke more action — to make sure that policy makers will not have the excuse of saying, ‘We didn’t know.’ ”
Increasingly, the nagging question about the Trump administration may have less to do with what it knows, and more to do with whether it cares about the dire ramifications of its capricious decisions. While Pruitt’s EPA may face legal challenges that could delay changes for years, it’s also true that budget cuts have depleted inspection and enforcement of air and water quality rules at the state level. Clean air and water should not be a partisan concern. Stripping away environmental regulations will leave this nation and its citizens vulnerable to unsafe conditions, and its attendant threats and dangers won’t adversely affect only the children of liberals or tree-hugging advocates.
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