I read that reporters at the New York Times took off their shoes and socks and counted, on their fingers and toes (lol), 84 ways the Trump Administration is worsening pollution in America.
A long time ago, back in the 1960s when I was an editor at Business Week magazine in New York, I lived in a nice New Jersey town called Matawan and rode up the Jersey coast on the train every day. Once the train crossed the Raritan River at Perth Amboy, I saw the sky darken under the clouds of air pollution that chemical plants and oil refineries were shooting up over the crowded cities of Elizabeth and Bayonne. I still remember how the air coming through the train’s open windows stank and hurt my eyes.
During that time I wrote, for the cover of Business Week, an article about air pollution that began with the words, “The air over Pittsburgh is a witches’ brew of carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and many ladles of other nasty things.”
As a product of the world’s largest steel industry in those years, Pittsburgh ranked with Elizabeth and Bayonne, high among U.S. cities with the most unbreathable air; but, partly because of the eastward drift of Bayonne’s smog, New York — where I was working — actually ranked first, with the largest population and the worst air, among all U.S. cities.
God knows how many thousands in those cities died because of pollution, but a study even years later, in 1990, counted 135,000 attributable deaths a year, wheezing and coughing, nationwide.
The war on pollution finally started at the end of 1970, when President Richard Nixon created the federal Environmental Protection Agency and pollution rules grew teeth. Between 1980 and 2017 when Donald Trump entered the White House, the poisons I had named in my article decreased in the air around us by 67 percent.
And it was the air pollution regulations that did it. Everything else in our world grew by leaps and bounds during that time. The number of miles we were traveling on our roads increased 110 percent, our energy consumption increased 25 percent, even the number of men, women, and children among us skyrocketed by 44 percent.
When Trump became president he looked at the good things that had happened, said it was bad, and, always wanting to make a buck for himself and his friends — that is to say Big Business — he began slashing away at the safety regulations that had saved us.
Yes, and not only air pollution regulations. He diluted a rule from the 1990s that put a lid on major industrial polluters like the ones I saw years ago in New Jersey. He and his cronies have been bent on eliminating regulations that had prevented polluters from dumping stuff in our water and putting greenhouse gases in our air conditioners and refrigerators. Trump’s pollution giveaways will shoot greenhouse gases into the gray skies over us and lead to thousands of extra deaths from worse air quality, bringing back the bad old days that I saw when I was young.
It’s summer, so if the clouds look darker over you, it’s because Trump’s allowing refineries to put more ethanol in your gasoline; the higher amount makes more smog in hot weather.
And all of his 84 cuts in pollution regulations are designed to make billions more for Big Business.
Yet, poor guy, despite Trump’s swinging away with his machete he can’t please everyone. Seventeen automakers sent him a letter last week, because his plan to weaken regulations protecting us from car and truck smoke would cut their profits — the automakers would need to make different cars and trucks for different states that have stricter air pollution regulations. No more one size fits all.
What’s a guy to do?
Robert P. Bomboy has written for more than 60 national magazines and is the author of six books, including the novel “Smart Boys Swimming in the River Styx.” He taught for more than 30 years in colleges and universities, and he has been a Ford Foundation Fellow at the University of Chicago and in Washington, D.C.