Trump’s EPA Uses Sleight Of Hand To Make U.S. Air Quality Look Like It’s Improving…
But look more closely at their own numbers, and fancy charts and graphs, and you’ll find exactly the opposite
But hey, what do you expect when the guy running the Environmental Protection Agency is a former coal industry lawyer, and the guy who preceded him (and was forced to resign in disgrace), had was practically married to the oil industry?
What we’re referring to specifically is a report issued this week by the agency entitled “Our Nation’s Air 2019”. And it’s either a graduate-level lesson on spin, or — because it’s so full of obfuscations and attempts to make silk purses out of sows’ ears — a case study of how not to do it.
Let’s look at a few things, first of all this impressive graphic just below showing how pollutants of all kinds are down substantially over the last 30 years or so:
But why go back so far? You see, that’s just the problem here: isolate just the part of the chart that covers the Trump Presidency (as we have below), and a majority of those pollutants after going down for going on 3 decades are suddenly going up:
Even though many of the EPA’s graphics and charts are very interactive, it’s very hard to isolate just 2017 and 2018 on this one, so let’s see: Yes, everything’s still below the “most recent national standard” level, so that’s good. Although we’re not entirely sure about ozone — which was a big deal a couple of decades ago — and is now skirting that line, if not squeaking above it. Also going up are all measures of small particulate matter that can get into your lungs, and carbon monoxide (although it remains very low). Even measures that didn’t get worse since Trump took office: like lead and sulfur dioxide are flattening out after years of strong improvement. Sulfur dioxide pollution is largely related to car emissions, so improvement there is at least partly due to cleaner burning car engines. And that also makes it something that’s likely to reverse if Trump gets his way and successfully removes car emissions regulations, as he’s trying to do.
See? It’s hard when you’re looking at it in the context of the last 30 years to zoom in on the couple of years Trump’s been in office. And then it’s the opposite story. Which is precisely why, we’d guess, the EPA isn’t presenting it this way.
Now you may argue there’s been so much improvement, it has to start plateauing at some point. But no. If anything, new technologies and alternate energy sources should be leading to even more cleaner air, and improvement should be coming faster year after year, not the opposite. This is one area where it shouldn’t take much to see positive change accelerating, and certainly not reversing.
We always like to point out the EPA was established by President Nixon. No tree-hugger he. Primarily because after having been largely left to “self-regulate”, America’s biggest polluters turned out not to be good citizens and instead behaved very very badly. Starkly illustrated at the time by the Cuyahoga river in Ohio catching on fire.
Here’s another example, which is featured very prominently in the report:
This is a chart of “Unhealthy Air Days”. Those are days when bad air make it difficult for people with asthma and other respiratory ailments to breathe. Notice anything here? Again it looks like things have gotten a lot better, right? (This time the EPA goes back 20, not 30 years for whatever reason.)
But look closely again in the last few years, and you’ll see the trend is in reverse:
From 2012–2013 the number of bad air days were reduced more than 50%. Now that’s impressive. There could be a lot of reasons for that. But at least coincidentally it happened as new policies of Obama’s EPA started to have a significant impact on polluters. Since Trump’s taken office bad air days have crept back up nearly 10%. (Quick note before we move on: you may be wondering as we did how there could have been 799 “Unhealthy Air Days” last year, when there are only 365 days in a year. That’s because the EPA is measuring it by monitoring 35 major cities, so each time one city experiences one of those days, it gets reported separately. Hence, you can have multiple reports from multiple cities in a single day, accounting for a total way over the number of days in a year.)
Now you may say both those things could be aberrations, or statistically insignificant, since it’s only a couple of years we’re looking at. They could. But almost everything that could be an aberration in this report, is an aberration in the wrong direction. So at least make a note of it. And when the Trump Administration tries to show you a big picture of something — especially a really big picture — keep an eye out for little things they may be trying to hide.