Air We Shouldn’t Breathe, Water We Shouldn’t Drink

Yesterday, I posted about the shorter-and-longer term consequences of Trump’s assault on various policies and norms. I noted in passing that the next administration–assuming it is Democratic (if it isn’t, the America we grew up in is gone)–will need to reinstate numerous environmental safeguards before it can address the critical threat posed by climate change.

Paul Krugman has laid out the dimensions of the Trump administration’s assault on basic environmental protections. Here’s his lede:

Given what we’ve seen in the impeachment hearings so far, there is literally no crime, no abuse of power, that would induce Republicans to turn on President Trump. So if you’re waiting for some dramatic political turn, don’t hold your breath.

On second thought, however, maybe you should hold your breath. For air quality has deteriorated significantly over the past few years — a deterioration that has already cost thousands of American lives. And if Trump remains in power, the air will get much worse, and the death toll rise dramatically, in the years ahead.

Krugman clarifies that, in referring to air pollution, he isn’t talking about the greenhouse gases driving climate change. He is addressing the issue of pollutants with a much more immediate effect. That includes, as he points out,  “fine particulate matter,” the small particles that make the air hazy.  Those particulates pose a significant health hazard, because they penetrate deep into the respiratory tract.

The good news until a few years ago was that thanks to environmental regulation the concentration of fine particulates was in fairly rapid decline. The bad news is that since 2016 this kind of pollution has been on the rise again, reversing around a fifth of the gains since 2009.

That may not seem like a big problem, but estimates are that even this relatively small rise  led to almost 10,000 extra deaths last year.

If deaths don’t concern you (!), perhaps the economic cost of rising pollution will. A study Krugman cites puts it at $89 billion a year. As he notes, even in an economy as large as America’s, $89 billion is a pretty big number.

And things are poised to get much worse. The Trump administration is working on new rules that would effectively prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from making use of much of the scientific evidence on adverse health effects of pollution. This would cripple environmental regulation, almost surely leading to sharply worsening air and water quality over time….

Why is this happening? As many observers have pointed out, failing to act on climate change, although it’s an indefensible crime against humanity, is also in some ways understandable. Greenhouse gas emissions are invisible, and the harm they do is global and very long-term, making denialism relatively easy.

Particulates, however, are visible, and the harm they do is both relatively localized and fairly quick. So you might have thought that the fight against dirty air would have widespread, bipartisan support. Indeed, modern environmental protection began under none other than Richard Nixon, and retired E.P.A. officials I’ve talked to describe the Nixon era as a golden age.

Krugman says the GOP has become the party of pollution.

Why? Follow the money. There’s huge variation among industries in how much environmental damage they do per dollar of production. And the super-polluting industries have basically put all their chips on the Republicans. In 2016, for example, coal mining gave 97 percent of its political contributions to Republican candidates and causes. And polluters are getting what they paid for….If Trump doesn’t succeed in destroying our democracy (a big if), his most damaging legacy will be the vast environmental destruction he leaves behind.

Krugman’s column centered on air quality; recent EPA rollbacks pose an equally serious threat to the nation’s water supply.

How corrupt do you have to be to value your bottom line over the health of your children and grandchildren?


  1. Republicans have only maximized profit and increased wealth for the wealthy as their desire. Clean air and water rules, work place safety rules all cost money to implement, money that could have gone to the shareholders or CEO bonuses. Can’t have that can we.

  2. I never seem able to find the right words to describe how despicable the current administration’s actions are.

  3. Are there any statistics listing corporations and businesses who continued complying with EPA regulations after Trump repealed them? Or how many and which corporations ignored the regulations but were never sanctioned for continuing to pollute while the regulations were in effect? This government has been partially to blame for not fining or shutting down huge businesses and corporations who have dumped hazardous waste for many decades polluting air, land and waterways. Love Canal, Karen Silkwood, Erin Brockovich, the Boston attorney and his entire law firm who lost everything fighting businesses and corporations causing cancers, birth defects in people and animals, our own Johnson County Child Cancer Cluster; and the list goes on…as does the dumping, polluting and the increasing death toll.

  4. Ditto what Jeffrey said.

    Peggy, I can come up with the right words to describe this despicable administration, but I really shouldn’t type them here.

    Regarding air pollution : I have mentioned before that it keeps getting more difficult to control my asthma. Stronger meds don’t help like they should. On this subject I should also mention that the price of inhalers is outrageous. This is a life or death medicine for asthmatics just as insulin is for diabetics. Shame on the pharmaceutical companies that rake in billions of dollars in profits by spending comparably tiny amounts of money on lobbyists in DC to grant their wishes.

  5. Power and money are numero uno in the Republican playbook. Oh, death and destruction and the end of our democracy? Yawn. Collateral damage. GRRRRR Pitchforks, anybody?

  6. After listening to witnesses in the impeachment proceedings day after day, I have a question. Who translated the Republican talking points from the original Russian?

  7. And this just in! DJT backed away from a proposed ban on flavored e-cigarettes. It might cost jobs and thus hurt him politically. That was after the lobbyists got to him. Never mind the lost lives and horrendous costs of medical treatment for those young people sickened by them.

    It is always about him. However, he has been a very easy sell when his narcissism might be thwarted. It seems he will parrot whatever policy was pushed by the last person he heard (and that may be only those he cares to listen to).

  8. We live just a half block from a 6 lane street. It was a new 4 lane when we moved in. We had new windows put in last year. Subsequent window cleaning has revealed a very fine black powder in the crevices and tiny droplets of an oily substance on the outside of the pains.

    We think the fine particles are tire grit and who knows where the oily stuff comes from. The point being that they are obviously in the air we are breathing every day. I wonder what our lungs look like? I wonder how much of the same stuff winds up in the storm water that drains into the White River, our drinking water source.

    And that is with some regulations still in place. Who knows for sure if the rules are actually being applied?

  9. Humans have always just discarded their waste and moved on. Archaeological digs prove that. Thing is, we’re now almost 8 billion strong and our inventions of economics and capitalism have allowed that original behavior to be so great as to kill us all. That said, most of the civilized world REGULATES its waste to greater degrees than we now do. As noted, we were on the right track to cleaning up our act, then Republicans took over government and that all stopped.

    As an extension of the Rick Wilson book, “Everything Trump Touches Dies”, I’d like to substitute “Republicans” for “Trump”.


    Yes, the original Russian was a better read, but, you know, things are lost in the translation.

  10. Authoritarians celebrate the power that Trump brought to the Republican party and seemingly don’t miss anything about the middle class who they are required to regularly sell down the river. Liberals on the other hand lament the loss of freedom that has been the hallmark of US culture for going on three centuries.

    Most on this blog have lived through perhaps one quarter of US history. That’s what statisticians would say is a representative sample of the more and more variable demographics of what has defined this country through modernity. We see the trends and our experience knows that the vast majority of that direction is headed towards loss of the freedom that others gave their all to defend and pass on to us.

    Part of our lamentation is what can we do? We depended on democracy and our Constitution which we thought represented a sacred pact with our government. What happened and what can be our response? In WWII leaders of politics and military and production and science rose up on call and organized a national purpose equal to their task. Who can we count on?

    The impeachment hearings have given us some clues to who we can count on and who we can’t. Are enough of us paying attention? Will enough of us answer the call? Can enough of us put down our differences long enough to collaborate on restoration of what we have in common? Can the Constitution be restored.

    We’ll know soon enough.

  11. The Republican thought process appears to be the same as that of financial wizards speaking to one another, the ones that brought us the 2008 crash:. IBGYBG – I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone (and there money to be made NOW.)

  12. What we lack is a goal. When JFK issued his call to put a man on the moon and return him safely, the best minds were assembled to complete this goal. We witnessed the end result was a success. We saw some spectacular failures during the program.

    There never seems to have been a similar goal effort in terms of the environment. One issue would be the more we know, the more the goal may change. At one time DDT was widely used, until it’s adverse effects were revealed.

    Science and technology may tell us X, Y and Z by themselves are harmless, but combining them into XYZ is toxic over time. Now you have the entry of Steroid Capitalism that will dispute the science and send herds of lobbyists to the States and Congress with cash in hand.

    Rather than relying on independent scientists, political hacks can rely on the Industry’s “Scientists”, to staff the EPA or FDA, etc. The toxicity of coal has long been known, black lung, damage to land and water during after extraction, toxic fumes from burning coal, to the disposal of coal ash. Yet, with all of coal’s known negatives, an army of lobbyists will determine what action the States or Feds will take, not the scientists.

  13. Sorry Warren, but the ones who brought us the financial crash were Wall Street and they own the DNC. Obama let them fix their own mess which meant another $13 trillion from Main Street to Wall Street and not a single banker went to jail. Not one.

    As for saving this “democracy”, we rank 25th, right behind Chile and Estonia.

    I once wrote a letter to Luke Messer about the polluted air in the US and Indiana…he sent a response with a quote from the US Chamber of Commerce. Why would the Chamber lie?

    We have two (2) right-wing parties in this fascist country. It’s going to take more than voting in this country. We’ll need progressive candidates, who aren’t owned the Oligarchs, to pull this country back to the left and toward democracy.

  14. We have throughout modern American history had two political parties. They are more different today than ever before in my three quarters of a century experience.

  15. From in Nashville: Daily News Update Thursday, November 21, 2019–
    Al Gore Launches A 24-Hour Environmental Event: “24 Hours of Reality: Truth in Action”

    Many of you here may find this informative and useful. We all know that up to this moment, there is no Planet B.

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