4 Ways Trump and Congress Are Making It Harder to Breathe

A boy in Fresno, California, demonstrates how he uses an inhaler to combat asthma, made worse by air pollution in San Joaquin Valley, April 2017.

This column contains a correction.

Over the past six months, President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress have taken unprecedented steps to undermine federal protections for air quality, putting Americans’ lungs and health at risk.

President Trump has filled his administration with former oil, gas, and coal lobbyists who have sought for years to undo environmental protections. With their help, President Trump and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt have already started to dismantle key EPA pollution standards for power plants and oil and gas facilities. For its part, Congress is considering legislation to block the EPA from setting stronger air quality standards to protect the health of children and the elderly. Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate are working hand in hand with the Trump administration  to slash funding for EPA programs that enforce laws to protect the environment and clean up the country’s air, land, and waters.

The Trump administration and Congress are leading the country down a path toward dirtier air and a more unstable climate. Their policies put the 22 million Americans who suffer from asthma at risk of suffering more asthma attacks that require expensive emergency room visits and absences from school and work. (Click here* for data on asthma prevalence by congressional district.) The Center for American Progress estimates that the four policy changes outlined below, if implemented, would lead to at least 320,000 more asthma attacks every year.

Here are the top four ways in which President Trump and Congress are making it harder for Americans to breathe.

President Trump and Congress want to slash funding for programs that protect air quality

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA and states to implement science- and technology-based solutions to reduce pollution. To do this, the EPA must be fully funded. President Trump’s budget proposal released May 23, 2017, slashes the EPA’s overall funding by 31 percent. It also cuts in half the EPA’s budget for climate and air quality research and cuts by one-third the operating budget to implement climate and clean air programs. The House budget resolution also proposed cutting nearly 28 percent from environmental protection and natural resources programs, including the EPA.

The House of Representatives passed the polluter-supported ‘Smoggy Skies Act’

On July 18, 2017, the House passed H.R. 806, the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017—or the “Smoggy Skies Act.” The act delays for 10 years the implementation of the 2015 air quality standard for ozone pollution, giving a free pass to polluters. It also directly attacks the heart of the Clean Air Act by directing the EPA to take polluter compliance costs into consideration when setting air quality standards, rather than relying solely on medical science to determine how much pollution is safe to breathe. If the Smoggy Skies Act becomes law, delaying implementation of the ozone standards could result in up to 230,000 more asthma attacks in children each year. EPA Administrator Pruitt has already extended a key implementation deadline until 2018.

The EPA has promised to dismantle the Clean Power Plan

The Obama administration developed the Clean Power Plan (CPP) to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The CPP would also cut other harmful pollutants, including those that cause soot and smog. These pollution reductions would prevent up to 90,000 asthma attacks every year.

President Trump and EPA Administrator Pruitt—who sued to block the CPP while serving as the Oklahoma attorney general—began the process of dismantling the CPP upon taking office. On March 28, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order directing the EPA to review the CPP. Two days later, Administrator Pruitt advised governors to ignore the CPP’s provisions, since the U.S. Supreme Court had stayed the rule. In its unified agenda for rule-making priorities, the Trump administration announced that the EPA will propose to revoke the CPP entirely.

The EPA is halting and reconsidering a rule that protects air from methane leaks from the oil and gas industry

In June 2012, President Trump’s EPA proposed a two-year implementation delay for a 2016 rule that requires the oil and gas industry to detect and repair methane leaks from new operations and drilling equipment. Methane is a significant contributor to climate change and much more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane emissions often are laced with other harmful pollutants, including smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and toxic chemicals. The oil and gas industry is the largest industrial source of methane in the United States. If the EPA succeeds in delaying and overturning the rule, oil and gas companies could release 210,000 additional tons of VOCs. The Clean Air Task Force predicts that by 2025, ozone smog due to oil and gas pollution will cause more than 750,000 asthma attacks in children each summer, when smog levels are highest.

These are just four ways President Trump and Congress have attacked clean air and pursued a political strategy that, if successful, will make it harder for Americans to breathe. Unfortunately, these are likely not this administration and Congress’ last actions aimed at letting polluters off the hook. The 22 million Americans who suffer from asthma will be most at risk from these misguided policies.

Click here* to download data for adults and children with asthma in each congressional district.

Methodology:* CAP generated district-level data based on county-level asthma data from the American Lung Association’s 2017 “State of the Air” report. The American Lung Association extrapolated county data from state data according to population. For more information on the American Lung Association’s methodology, please see the report. To create district-level data from the American Lung Association’s county-level data, CAP referred a database from the Missouri Census Data Center that allocated each county’s population by congressional district. If 20 percent of a county’s population resides in the 1st Congressional District, the authors assumed that 20 percent of the county’s asthmatics reside in that district. 

Myriam Alexander-Kearns is a policy analyst for the Energy and Environment Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Alison Cassady is director of domestic energy and environment policy at the Center.

*Correction, July 28, 2017: This column has been updated to provide more specific methodology regarding the authors’ analysis of the American Lung Association’s data.