The president, hard up for actual environmental accomplishments, kept rounding back to the EPA’s success in delisting Superfund sites. It’s true that the EPA has finished cleaning up 22 heavily toxic places under Trump, but many of the sites were the subject of a years-long effort that preceded his administration.
Trump then talked up alternative energy. “I’m a big believer in solar energy,” he said. That makes sense as a pitch: Solar energy is overwhelmingly popular among Americans of all parties. But he is doing very little to help its cause. The solar-power industry has lost roughly 18,000 jobs under the Trump administration, according to its trade group. The group says that most of that hemorrhage is due to the president’s tariffs. (The coal industry has gained 2,000 jobs in the same time.) Trump also didn’t mention wind energy during his speech. It’s just as popular as solar energy, but in April the president alleged it causes cancer. (It doesn’t.)
Most important, Trump brought back a promise from his 2016 campaign. “From day one, my administration has made it a top priority to ensure that America has among the very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet,” he said. And maybe if administration officials still phrased this as an aspiration, it would be true: Trump wants the U.S. to have the cleanest air! He’s not helping matters much at all, but hey, at least he wants it!
Except yesterday the White House went further. “Today we have the cleanest air on record,” said Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, during the event. “Pollution is on the decline, and our focus is to accelerate its decline, particularly in the most at-risk communities.”
“Under your administration,” he added, addressing Trump, “emissions of all the criteria air pollutants have continued to decline.”
But those claims are misleading or incorrect. Six types of dangerous air pollutants qualify as “criteria” pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and all are toxic in some form to human health. At least two of them—ozone and particulate matter—are more prevalent now than they were in 2016, before Trump took office, according to EPA data released this week. (After publication, an EPA spokesman said wildfires and weather events had increased the concentration of these gases in the air. Wheeler’s claim was that human emissions of these gases had decreased, the spokesman said, citing data released after this story came out.)*
The problem is that neither of those claims is true. Six types of dangerous air pollutants qualify as “criteria” pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and all are toxic in some form to human health. At least three of them—ozone, nitrous oxide, and particulate matter—are more prevalent now than they were in 2016, before Trump took office, according to EPA data released this week.