“True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good.” (Laudato Si’, n. 178).
As people of faith, we are called to care for creation and the most vulnerable. However, at this moment the health of our planet as well as the livelihood of our neighbors and future generations face grave challenges.
Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented rollbacks on auto and industrial pollution and have proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock environmental law that requires studies to measure the potential negative environmental impact of projects before they are approved.
A final rule was passed in March 2020 that confirmed the rollback of auto emission standards and that prevents states from creating higher standards for tailpipe emissions, something that the Clean Air Act has allowed for since it was signed in the 1970s. Critics say that this rule will likely add an additional billion metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. In a historic window of time, when a drastic reduction in global emissions is needed in every sector (transportation was the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2018), this rule delays the immediate action needed to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Additionally, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the EPA announced a set of guidelines that allow companies to monitor their own pollution levels for an undetermined amount of time, and the EPA will not fine or require them to report if they violate standard air, water, and hazardous-waste pollution levels. A new rule also weakens regulations on the release of mercury and other toxic metals from oil and coal-fired power plants.
Finally, proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act could reduce the number of industries required to consider the environmental impacts of infrastructure projects, such as pipelines, before construction can begin. This change would make it easier for industries to get approval for projects without having to disclose expected impacts such as air pollution rates, clear cutting of trees, the amount of waste that might be discharged into the community, and the expected impact of greenhouse gas emissions on global warming.
These rollbacks come during a global pandemic, and studies have shown a link between air pollution and a higher death rate from COVID-19. In addition to the inopportune timing of these policies, changes in these rules will ultimately cause more air pollution, which most often disproportionately affects the health of vulnerable populations, such as children, and low-income communities.
Join the Ignatian Solidarity Network in calling on Congress to support legislation that would increase air pollution standards and oversight, especially for mercury and other toxic metals, and that upholds environmental impact studies as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.