For Donald Trump, telling a lie is as natural as drawing a breath. The man lies so frequently and so reflexively that it’s hard to keep track, but this double whopper from October deserves to be revisited: “I want the cleanest air on the planet, and our air now is cleaner than it’s ever been.”
Wanting the “cleanest air on the planet,” of course, isn’t exactly consistent with wanting to burn more coal, frack more gas, and drill more oil. And, in fact, Trump’s EPA is working overtime to make our air dirtier, not cleaner. That led to an awkward moment when Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin recently asked acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler to name three Trump administration policies that might reduce air pollution. “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to give three off the top of my head,” Wheeler replied, which was an accurate prediction.
Well, off the top of my head, I can name two proposed Trump EPA policies that would seriously increase air pollution. According to the EPA’s own analysis, its proposal for replacing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan would significantly increase at least four kinds of air pollution. And its proposed rollback of automobile fuel-efficiency standards would be equivalent to building 30 new coal-fired power plants.
What about Trump’s claim that our air is “cleaner than it’s ever been”? Again, his own EPA says that smog and small-particle air pollution levels both increased in 2017. We don’t have data for 2018, yet, but I’m fairly certain we’re looking at another record-busting year for small-particle pollution owing to the epic wildfires that smothered the West Coast in smoke that then drifted all the way to the East Coast.
So, yes, Trump lied, and the sun came up in the east this morning. That matters for lots of reasons, but the most important one is this: More people will die because of the truth behind Trump’s lies. Even Trump’s EPA officially estimated that there would be more than 1,500 additional premature deaths a year by 2030 if they succeeded in replacing the Clean Power Plan. Seriously, this is how they want to protect us? It’s the bureaucratic equivalent of Trump’s boast that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters.”
Air pollution isn’t a new problem, but where before we were making progress, under Trump we’re losing ground. Exposure to small-particle pollution — which made N95 respirator masks a common sight in Northern California last month — increases the risk of stroke and heart attack. The two worst sources of that pollution, when horrific wildfires aren’t raging, are coal plants and automobiles.
To put those health risks in perspective, if Fresno, California, which typically suffers some of the most polluted air in the country, could meet the clean air standard set by the World Health Organization, life expectancy for its residents would go up by a full year. If Los Angeles did the same thing, people there would, on average, live half a year longer. In a city of 4 million people, that translates into 2 million years of human life lost.
But you don’t have to live in a place where the air is bad all the time; even a spike of a few days of really bad air can shorten lives and lead to other serious health issues. In Utah, short-term exposure to air pollution was shown to increase the risk of miscarriage by 16 percent. One new animal study even suggests that when parents are exposed to small-particle pollution before they conceive, their offspring will be more likely to suffer from heart disease.
Worldwide, three out of four people live with seriously polluted air. It’s responsible for seven million deaths every year. It does more to lower life expectancy than AIDS or smoking. Or war. Or terrorism. And the pollution itself knows no borders. People in California breathe pollution from China; people in New York breathe pollution from California. Like climate change, it’s a global problem.
And also like climate change, it’s a problem Donald Trump only wants to make worse, even though we know how to make it better (by replacing fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy). Real solutions to actual problems, though, are not this president’s style. What do we get instead? Tweets, tantrums, and lies. Lies that could take your breath away — maybe literally.