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Natalie Burden

The article that was assigned to us listed some seriously frightening things that could possibly arise out of the relaxation of environmental pollution standards. This article focused more on the irresponsibility of it, as increased pollution will increase the likelihood that someone whose lungs are already compromised will be at greater risk of serious illness and death from the coronavirus, and while it may be easing some stress on the businesses, it is worsening the coronavirus crisis, which is the reason businesses are in such a terrible place right now.
Another article I found was a little more eye opening to the possibility that the relaxation of pollution standards could lead not only to accidental increases in pollution but more cavalier and almost intentional increases in pollution:
The EPA relaxed its standards urging businesses to comply to them when reasonably practical. However, I haven’t found any information on whether the standards have changed to specified eased levels, which makes me wonder whether there are any standards left at all. With the lines so blurred and companies so desperate to stay afloat during right now, companies will do anything to cut costs, even it means allowing higher levels of carcinogens into the air, or directing high amounts of toxins directly into waterways that will likely cause longer term issues. This increased pollution is especially bad because it’s dirtier pollution than what it normally is and could do a lot more damage in a much shorter time as a result.

Christopher Watt

As stated by Cynthia Giles, former senior EPA enforcement administrator under Obama, there has been no period in the agency's history during which it "relinquished its fundamental authority"--its mandate to protect the environment and mitigate pollution. Though it is understandable that many agency's will have lower outputs or may not be working at all under the current circumstances, there does not seem a valid reason to excuse pollution and its harms to the environment and people. As the posted article, along with two others I found from VOX and PBS, articulate, increasing companies' ability to pollute indefinitely could have harms on the health of citizens, making them increasingly vulnerable to the public health threat of the coronavirus (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/citing-outbreak-epa-has-stopped-enforcing-environmental-laws ; https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/3/29/21198674/coronavirus-epa-trump-regulations). To think about this policy from a charitable lens, though, I could see some easing of restrictions if it made the production of necessary goods for the coronavirus more efficient; however, I do not understand the seemingly total lack of limitations on this increased pollution (I couldn't find, like Natalie, any updates regulations) nor the indefiniteness of this policy change. Even if the course of Covid-19 isn't known, I would think they would allow increased pollution at least up to a specified amount or for a specified amount of time.
Considering our simple economic model for pollution, this policy change drops the marginal abatement costs for a firm, causing the efficient amount of pollution to move out. Furthermore, considering the effects of this policy change on public health, particularly in light of the ongoing respiratory illness, COVID-19, the negative externalities of production increase, shifting the SMB curve further in than it was previously, moving the socially optimal amount of production in, or decreasing the socially optimal amount of production. With lower regulation, production at the same level or more will have a higher marginal social cost due to companies' ability to pollute more. This policy doesn't make sense when considered in this way.

Christopher Watt

*Citation for the first quote came from the PBS article

Patrick Sullivan

I think the article assigned was gripping and attention grabbing to the issue at hand, but should be looked through a contextualized lens. I think we can all agree that the release of carcinogens into the air is a bad thing and in normal times we should try and cut down on these at all costs, but these obviously are not normal times. I think it is important that we understand the crippling situation most business are facing in the face of this global pandemic. I think the goal of the Presidents administration was to lessen the financial burden faced by companies during these next few months. With the decrease in overall travel, coupled with the laxed EPA policies, there may still be a decrease in pollution into the atmosphere during these quarantine times. I could not find any data on this subject but think it would be an interesting statistic to look at over the next few months. I think this also provides a unique opportunity for the country and the world to catch its breath. This situation will undoubtably change the way we live forever but the question is, how much it will. I think that this could be the catalyst the world needs in order to combat health, and environmental issues head on, and create alternative production/administration methods moving forward. In short, don't lose hope.

Allie Case

After reading the article about the EPA, I agree most with the points that George Thurston makes. I think the biggest danger will not be the immediate consequences of an increase in pollution, but rather what happens when we see a sudden increase in air pollution after productivity resumes at high levels with no enforcement. In a similar article published on Time this morning, it looks like the current administration is also finalizing plans to rollback the standards for fuel emissions (Knickmeyer and Krisher). Between the two articles, I found it interesting how hard it is to emphasize the long term dangers of pollution. I can at least try and see a convincing short term argument that companies are suffering by not being able to operate (however true this is or not) or that people will be able to buy cheaper cars (Knickmeyer and Krisher). I find it frustrating reading that an organization such as the EPA has become so partisan- the statements given by Susan Bodine and Corry Schiermeyer are extremely shortsighted and not at all focused on protecting the environment in the long run. Both the reasons for rollbacks on pollution enforcement and fuel emissions seem to just be the best excuses they can come up with to defend a purely political move with no scientific consideration. I liked how each article cited either former officials or those in a senior position that all contradict current opinions. Interesting how they seem to have come to the same consensus that these plans are all detrimental, contrary to what Trump would argue…

Time article on full emission rollbacks:

Adam Harter

Ideally, the goal of the EPA would be trying to push the private cost as close as possible to the social cost. In the past, they have made this push by introducing command and control policies to reduce activities such as air pollution. The EPA, in this recent move, has abandoned this push in the positive direction and the result will be the private cost to shift out as companies are able to act in their selfish interests.

Everyone, including the EPA, knows that this will be the effect, but they believe it is in the best interest of stopping the spread of COVID-19. Stepping into the EPAs shoes, they have created a strange version of the trolley problem in which they justify there reasoning. On one hand, the EPA could not relax the regulations and the trolley continues on straight. The results of this are potentially employees at polluting firms do not social distancing, get sick. Of course, this is a result no one wants to happen, but it remains unclear how letting companies pollute and social distancing go hand and hand. Another reason cited in a New York Times article is that facilities cannot “concentrate on ensuring that their pollution-control equipment remains safe and operational.” Couldn’t this argument be made for every piece of equipment pollution-control or not?

If they divert the trolley, they can feel good about these more “direct” changes and the potential live saving measures they have made completely disregarding that the track that they put the trolley onto has a lot more bodies tied onto it. According to the World Health organization, in 2012, “one out of every nine deaths was the result of air pollution-related conditions. Of those deaths, around 3 million are attributable solely to ambient (outdoor) air pollution.” The difference is that these deaths are more hidden then a death from COVID-19. An availability bias is created that throws out all reasoning of the potential lives that might be saved by not changing the regulations. Instead, the fear causes illogical changes like the EPA one to be made.

Of course, what I have written above is assuming that the EPA truly believes what justification they have provided to the media outlets. In reality, it is likely the continuation of the belief that high environmental quality does not equal economic prosperity. As wrong as this may be, the EPA is giving firms a free pass in a time of economic hardship to forget about the social cost and pollute for profit. A direct effect of this I can think about is in oil and gas. With the price per barrel so low, oil companies may be more than willing to cut costs to remain competitive.


World Health Organization Assesment on Ambient Air Pollution (2016)

Nikki Doherty

Given the information regarding who is most vulnerable to the virus, namely, that individuals with comprised respiratory issues are at greater risk of death from the virus, this article is very alarming. I can imagine that some in support of the EPA’s move may argue that air pollution’s effects on respiratory health primarily come to fruition in the long term. Research proves, however, that this may not the case. A study on females from Wuhan and Zhuhai, China found that outdoor air pollution is associated with short-term adverse effects on lung function (Zhou et al 2016). Specifically, they use forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) as measures of lung function. A later study, also in China, uses time-series analysis to find that increases in air pollutants, SO2, NO2, and PM10, are associated with increases in respiratory disease mortality (Zhu et al 2018). This study took place from 2009 to 2015, which is a much longer time period than we can expect from corona virus; however, the fact is that air pollution can severely impact the lungs quicker than we might believe. I believe a quote from Gina McCarthy, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, is a very strong one, but it does open some eyes up to the EPA’s response: “an open license to pollute… this brazen directive is nothing short of an abject abdication of the EPA mission to protect our well being” (Times).

What is further alarming, is that there is no end date on the EPA’s suspension of penalty. I say this because once virus cases begin declining, companies will still be hurting financially and recovering from things like layoffs. If so, they are likely to lobby for continuing no penalties, or reduced penalties for noncompliance because compliance may strain their budgets. The article claims that social distancing prevents compliance with air pollution rules. However, if we take as given that increased air pollution may make the virus worse for a lot of people, might we be able deem these workers as essential and provide aid to firms performing compliance duties?

Looking at the situation in the lens of an economic model, it becomes even more unreasonable. Let’s view the resulting air pollution as a negative externality. The inappropriate government intervention (no enforcement of penalties) causes over-efficient emission by decreasing the cost of pollution. The company’s increasing pollution is failing to take into account the full social cost of their pollution, which is now even higher than in the past (because of the danger of pollution making people that much more vulnerable to the virus). We could use an optimal externality model (with social costs as a function of abatement costs and damages) to determine what a better response from the EPA and firms might be. Given the virus’ threat to those with respiratory illness, I think that the MDF curve should shift upwards. I believe that the MAC should likely remain the same as before the virus (if the EPA didn’t lower the MAC as they do with their current policy). This situation would mean that the optimal level of emissions should be less emissions than before the virus. However, if we agree with firms that the MAC has increased and shifted outward (due to social distancing workers), I believe that MDF should shift upwards by much more. As a result, this would still make optimal emissions either equal to before the virus, or still less than before the virus.

As most the US economy and industry sits still, we have an opportunity to change the way we are doing things. We could be taking this time to learn how to implement new, more efficient technologies once we get back up and running. We could be using this time to derive any glimpses of potential benefits from the virus- like lower pollution rates- and ask ourselves how can we ensure that these benefits continue to be realized post crisis.

Referenced articles:
Zhu et al 2016 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5062123/
Zhu et al 2018 https://www.resmedjournal.com/article/S0954-6111(18)30390-1/fulltext
Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/climate/epa-coronavirus-pollution-rules.html

Olivia Luzzio

In the marginal cost/marginal benefit framework, the EPA reducing enforcement of pollution standards causes the marginal private cost (MPC) curve to shift to the right because it is cheaper to pollute. In normal times, this would also cause the marginal social cost (MSC) curve to shift left because increased pollution results in greater costs to society as a whole. However, in the midst of COVID-19, the left-ward shift of the MSC curve would be profoundly augmented. As stated in the article, increased pollution leads to more severe cases of respiratory illness, which is the last thing our healthcare system needs right now. Rather, the U.S. should be taking advantage of every possible measure to limit the propensity of Americans to suffer from COVID-19 in order to limit private and social costs. Limiting air pollution is a nonpharmaceutical intervention just like quarantines, social-distancing, and sanitization which would contribute to minimizing the impacts of the virus.
Some may argue that COVID-19 has slammed the U.S. economy and relieving businesses of pollution requirements gives firms the opportunity to catch their breath. But the information in the article and above suggests that pollution propagates the virus, prolonging the suffering of the U.S. economy. The costs of extending business closures and the elongated drop in household consumption will not be covered by relieving firms of the costs of environmental standards. The quickest way for businesses to recover is through resolution of the public health crisis that is COVID-19, which requires clean air to breathe. Not to mention, the costs of pollution unrelated to the propagation of the virus still exist and will continue to plague the U.S. economy in years to come. In other words, firms will not be able to catch their breath until Americans can safely catch theirs, and it is clear from a marginal social cost standpoint that the EPA’s action was a poor economic decision.

Didi Pace

This situation could be analyzed through a MAC/MDF model. EPA regulations get private behavior to act in society's best interest. Without these regulations in place, the private sector will slide down the MAC function so that pollution levels rise (at the farthest point to the right, the cost for pollution is nearly 0, while the damage is maximized) . With COVID-19/respiratory issues coming into play, the MDF would shift up, meaning the damages to society are even greater.


^Here is another short article to contextualize the situation some more. I see both sides of the argument. On one hand, this move allows non-essential EPA employees and short staffed companies to not focus on routine sampling and record keeping. On the other hand, this move can exacerbate the problem of COVID-19. This could also be seen as a politically driven move to help businesses flourish, with little concern for the public health impacts.

Margot McConnell

It really baffles me that EPA decided that in the middle of a pandemic that effects the respiratory system that it would be a good idea to ease restrictions on pollution. At this point, everyone knows that COVID-19 affects your respiratory system the most, and therefore, the increased threat from easing pollution restrictions could pose as an increased threat to everyone’s health, especially if they contract COVID-19 and already have a compromised respiratory system. Additionally, I think the article makes a good point in arguing that the health care system does not need more people coming to the hospital because of asthma attacks, heart attacks, and so on. I know people think that at this time we don’t need to be concerned about how much industries are polluting when there is a global pandemic, but it seems counterintuitive. Right now we should be concerned about people’s health and well-being, which seems to be the case, but lifting pollution bans is threatening people’s health in addition to the looming COVID-19 threat.
An article on read on CBS points out a lot of the same things, but one thing that really stuck out to me that is important to remember is that certain populations of people are going to be more affected by this than others. This point is even more real now that we deal with COVID-19 because we are seeing that some communities are facing institutional barriers to healthcare access in the midst of the pandemic. This does not just mean poor people who are not able to get the testing like players in the NBA or celebrities. It also means the elderly population. In Italy, their health care system is so overwhelmed that they are choosing who lives and who dies, and in most cases, the elderly are the ones who are being told they will not get the ventilators.
Also, the New York Times had a really interesting article the other day about how to take care of your lungs. It is extremely relevant right now and points out how pollution can compromise your lungs and lead you to be more susceptible to COVID-19. The article also mentions how certain people are more likely to be exposed to more pollution and how they can possibly try to mitigate those effects within their homes. It is definitely worth a read.
In terms of an economic model to describe the situation, you can use one that just shows a negative externality on the production side. Another model that can be used is the MAC/MDF model that we discussed in class. It seems like other students have already explained how it would work in this situation, and I agree with them, so I am not going to explain it again since they got the point across. The moral of the story is easing pollution restrictions is not a good idea, especially when you consider the health of citizens in the United States.

Maisie Strawn

A marginal social benefit/marginal social cost model seems like a reasonable way to understand this issue. I feel certain that if we had enough information to accurately model the marginal social cost associated with the rollbacks in air pollution standards they would far outweigh the small benefit in cost savings by these companies. Trump and his administration’s justification for the rollbacks (that social distancing will make compliance more difficult for companies) seems unlikely. It seems far more likely that Trump is just pushing through his most egregious environmental protection deregulation while the public is distracted by the pandemic. This article (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/climate/coronavirus-environmental-regulations-trump.html) from the New York Times confirmed my fears. Trump is also pushing for loosening of controls concerning mercury emissions and toxic ash associated with coal plants. Both of these pollutants pose significant public health risks to Americans---aren’t we in enough of a health crisis already?? All of these sorts of potential regulatory changes are supposed to have a period where the public can comment on them. In light of the pandemic and the significant disruptions to many American’s lives, requests have reasonably been made to extend those public-comment periods. Trump’s administration has denied those requests. Requests to hold virtual public meetings regarding certain rule changes have also been denied. A spokesperson for Trump said that “We understand that Covid-19 has caused disruption in the lives of many Americans, but it is our duty to the American people to ensure we are continuing our work toward protecting human health and the environment,” in regards to the denial of requests for extended or virtual public-comment period. This rings incredibly false when these proposed rule changes will directly negatively affect the health of Americans.

Sydney Goldstein

One way this scenario can be modeled is through a negative externality model wherein the MSC of polluting is much higher than the MPC because the pollution impacts respiratory health which is likely to increase instances of COVID-19 lowering social welfare. Another model that can be used is a feedback loop to express the interdependent relationship between increased pollution and more cases of COVID-19, because if the number of cases continues to increase (as more pollution would cause) and the EPA continues to respond in the same manner then the rollbacks to attempt to help the economic situation surrounding COVID-19 would cause more cases causing a damaging cycle. Another model that can be used to represent another aspect of this scenario is a basic supply and demand model. For example, ventilators are used in the treatment of COVID-19 and their supply is relatively fixed short term due to the fact that production takes time and labor inputs are strained due to COVID-19. Demand for ventilators is already high and is having trouble being met in the US as well as other countries such as Italy. The EPA rollbacks on emissions, that increase chemicals in the air that are associated with increased respiratory illness, will further heighten demand for ventilators since respiratory illness will increase instances and severity of COVID-19. Because of the disparity between supply and demand shortages will occur and at that point the ethical issue of who should receive treatment and who shouldn’t becomes an issue.

The idea of how COVID-19 relates to pollution, ethics, and even poverty lead me to find an interesting article that discusses all of these things as well as compares it to the SARS outbreak. I found this comparison interesting as most people present COVID-19 as something unprecedented, but it is actually very similar to SARS as both are coronaviruses. This article includes discussion of how those who have less income are more likely to live in areas that have more pollution due to the inability to buy more expensive property away from pollution. This article talks primarily about a neighborhood in Chicago called Little Village where most residents are low income minorities. It discusses that because the residents of this area grew up breathing in soot from coal plants most of them already have poor respiratory function thus making them more vulnerable to COVID-19 and more likely to experience a more severe version of it. The article includes tweets by Gina McCarthy (president and chief executive of NRDC) that read as follows:

“As someone who has dedicated her career to public health issues, I also want to share my thoughts on the ways #COVID19 is impacting different communities...This crisis isn’t simply a public health issue. It is directly related to social equity and environmental justice...It is directly related to our fight for clean air, clean water, a healthy environment, and healthy communities. #COVID19 is affecting all of us—our health and our way of life, but low-income communities and communities of color may face added risk.”

I think the problems she brings up are the central idea of this article and important thing to consider today and everyday when making policy, such as rollbacks on emissions that are more likely to impact poor communities.

Article: https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/19/21186653/coronavirus-covid-19-air-pollution-vulnerable-lung-disease-pandemic

Max Gebauer

A graph of the Marginal Damage Function along with a curve representing the Marginal cost of abating (units of air pollution) would aptly represent the situation the EPA was faced with in making this regulatory decision. Assuming for the sake of debate that the social distancing guidelines actually make it more difficult for certain industries to be in compliance with said regulations (and therefore if followed present a new cost) the question the EPA is faced with is really not does the cost exist, but how big is it, and on the margin, would allowing violations of this law so that we can avoid this new cost of abatement outweigh the new damage costs of the increased pollution. Before even beginning to make their decision, regulators at the EPA would be misled if they used a MDF that doesn't account for how a respiratory pandemic magnifies the marginal cost of an additional unit of pollution. If one were to account for this (the following is pure conjecture) it's likely the the costs of continuing to abate pollution at the current regulatory limits (even if they're actually higher now due to CDC guidelines and not just all rhetoric from companies trying to save money) are far outweighed by the negative externalities in the form of decreased health outcomes especially due to the presence of a severe respiratory pandemic. Assuming my conjecture is true, the EPA policy would be appear to be shortsighted at best, and deliberately sacrificing the health and lives of everyday citizens at worst. Neither possibility seems desirable and it's particularly shameful that it's the EPA itself making this move (acknowledging that there may have been pressure from the executive).

Jacob Thompson

I was honestly shocked by the ease in enforcement that the EPA announced during this time. The fact that coronavirus largely affects the respiratory system and becomes especially dangerous when pneumonia is developed as well, but it’s even scarier considering the EPA is increasing our risk of developing respiratory problems along with it. If anything, I feel that now is the ideal time to approach these regulations in a stricter fashion in order to improve air quality and hopefully decrease the negative consequences of coronavirus along with it. It continues to baffle me that in a time like this, where it’s ideal to enhance our environmental protection regulations and make serious progress in improving the condition of the earth, humanity still finds a way to attempt to harm the environment more. Rather than placing efforts in a positive change, such as the recovery of the ozone layer that has been observed in recent months (https://www.zmescience.com/science/ozone-layer-recovering-2020-1135134/), the EPA has decided to allow companies and producers to increase pollution levels. In terms of a model, I feel it would be best to observe the marginal social cost and marginal social benefit. While allowing these changes in pollution may provide a slight benefit in terms of production, I feel that the social costs would greatly outweigh this benefit, as it could seriously damage public health and put a lot more people at risk.

Matt Condon

After reading about the easing off of air pollution regulations by the EPA amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I wish I could say I was more surprised by the policy. It is incredibly interesting to witness policy like this in contrast to politicians’ statements about how no number of deaths due to this virus is acceptable, and you can’t put a dollar value on a human life. This policy directly contradicts that statement. Putting a hold on air pollution regulation directly leads to an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 for millions, and will undoubtedly result in more deaths, all to make the economic aspect of this pandemic more tolerable for corporations in the short run. This idea led me to think that if there is some kind of dollar value on a person’s life, what is that value? I did not know that such a value existed, and it turns out that it does, and it’s called the Value of Statistical Life (VSL), and the EPA currently feels that it’s around $9.4 million per human life. According to the article below, this value is often used by economists to help understand situations like these. Another way to look at VSL is by asking the question, “How much are we willing to spend to reduce the odds of dying?” While that sounds terrible on the surface level, it disturbingly makes sense, as the flu kills thousands of Americans every year and we never shut down the country because of it like we are now. Over the course of the next several weeks and even months, it will be fascinating to watch the economic policies and aid packages that are introduced to combat the spread of coronavirus and the economic impact of it through the lens of the VSL.

The link below does a great job explaining the concept of VSL in to context of COVID-19, and briefly addresses rocky issues in the variation of VSL between people of different age groups and nationalities.

Walker Morris

The economic situation of this article represents an interesting situation. On the one hand, the coronavirus outbreak has caused pollution to decreased substantially from factory closures, fewer commuters, and restrictions in air travel. Conversely, the EPA's easing of regulation on pollution regulation will increase pollution at the same time. I believe that this situation can be best represented by an externality model revealing the marginal social cost (MSC) of pollution which is significantly greater than the marginal private cost (MPC). For the purpose of being specific, this model can be based on the marginal costs and benefits of factory usage in the United States. In a pre-coronavirus world, the model would show that the MSC of the factory is much greater than the MPB. When the outbreak reaches the United States and policies of social distancing are implemented and falling aggregate demand forces factory production to diminish, the MSC curve will shift leftward. This is because the negative effects of pollution will decrease as many factories will produce less materials. However, with the EPA deciding to ease it's regulatory policies, the MSC curve will again shift rightwards as the marginal social cost will increase. While it will not reach it's original position because factories will remain less productive, it will still increase pollution. When the coronavirus is finally under control, and the population leaves quarantine, the MSC will likely increase to unprecedented levels as factories will return to full production without much regulatory control. One of the few benefits of the coronavirus crisis has been the decrease in air pollution levels, and the EPA has decided to challenge this by easing regulatory measures. One can only hope that the EPA swiftly decides to reverse it's decision and re-implement some of it's regulatory measures to address air pollution.

Obviously in class, we have discussed the models depicting air pollution in China before and after the coronavirus outbreak. The models reveal a significant decrease in pollution throughout the country as factories shut down, and individuals took self-quarantine measures. About a week ago, I came across an article in the New York Times that told a similar story about the United States. The article particularly focused on the impact that less commuting has had on pollution in major urban areas across the country. As individuals are instructed to work and study from home, they no longer have to commute to work and their different activities. This has significantly reduced traffic in all major cities, consequently, pollution in these cities has also greatly decreased. I particular, nitrogen dioxide levels (which primarily come from car and truck pollution) have decreased greatly over the past month. This goes to show just how much a daily commute can contribute to air pollution when it is multiplied by the millions of individuals who commute around some of America's largest cities on a daily bases. This data is very encouraging as it shows just how much individual commuters contribute to air pollution. My hope is that this information sparks changes in the habits of millions of Americans. Individuals may choose to carpool or use public transportation to get to work instead of commuting on their own, increasing traffic and pollution. As life in America slows down, and individuals have time to reflect on their lives from home, I am optimistic that many will begin to appreciate the air they breath and will begin to change their habits for the sake of keeping our air cleaner.

Article Link: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/22/climate/coronavirus-usa-traffic.html

Jack Citrin


I read a similar article on the new guidelines regarding air pollution. The EPA said they would be "allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution." I find it irresponsible for the EPA to give factories this much leeway as these industries no longer have to report on the amount of air pollution they produce. Since COVID-19 is a respiratory illness it seems backwards for the EPA to relax restrictions on air pollution that could harm people with underlying health conditions like asthma. In my opinion air pollution should be regulated more heavily in order to decrease the risk to the population prone to the virus.

Noah Gallagher

A few years ago, an article like this would have surprised me. At first glance, it doesn't appear to make any sense. Why would we want to reduce air quality standards at a time when we need clean air the most - to save lives during a pandemic. All indicators have shown that this coronavirus is more dangerous to those with weaker lungs, older people, smokers, etc. It's not unreasonable to assume that people living with dirtier air would be more at risk (as shown with SARS, an earlier coronavirus).

No model can provide us with an answer (the model that we have available to us would show that the marginal damage function would become more damaging, providing us with greater incentive to pay the abatement costs and reduce the damages - instead, we're seeing the opposite). But looking at this as a snapshot in time won't produce a reasonable answer as to why this is occurring. It makes much more sense if considered as a part of the goals of the Trump administration's EPA. The overarching aim is a reduction in the agency's power and a decrease in regulation. This is fundamentally in opposition to what the agency was designed for and what I believe the agency is supposed to stand for.

On a related note, if you're bored and looking for something to read, comb through Scott Pruitt's (EPA Administrator from 2017-18) wikipedia page - particularly the section on controversies and the one below it on the management of the agency.


Mikki Whittington

If companies claim that social distancing guidelines will prevent employees from being able to properly do their jobs in respect to maintaining emissions levels in compliance with the Clean Air Act's standards, then social distancing could (should?) also reduce level of production. It seems unlikely that social distancing would only affect the jobs that result in emissions reductions and more likely that social distancing should affect most, if not all, jobs within a given production plant.

The end of the article does acknowledge that we are likely to see an uptick in pollution once the worst of the pandemic has passed and economic activity begins to rebound. I do see the opportunity for the EPA to change its decision before there are massive consequences for not enforcing the Clean Air Act.

The illness and death that are occurring right now are horrific. This pandemic and the stay at home orders that are following provide us with an opportunity though. We have the opportunity to restart, the opportunity to change the ways we do things on so many different levels (healthcare policy, environmental policy, educational policy, and other sociopolitical infrastructures). The EPA should reverse its decision to not enforce the clean air act and should actually institute plans for lower emissions levels and stricter compliance. Some 16-20% of patients will develop severe cases and will require ICU care; these patients are more likely to have long term or permanent lung damage and are more likely to develop acute respiratory disease syndrome.

Even if we return to the current (previously enforced) Clean Air Act requirements, there is going to be a much larger population with chronic respiratory diseases, increasing the national and global cost of medical care. If the EPA would choose to implement plans to reduce emissions beyond the current standard, the people most affected by coronavirus will have an easier time in the aftermath of this pandemic. We will all have an easier time in the aftermath of this pandemic. It doesn't really make sense to add one more health concern to a nation in the middle of a pandemic.

Ashley M Johnston

A few weeks ago in class, I remember we discussed that the pandemic could have positive effects in slowing down climate change, and potentially allow us to transform systems to be more sustainable. LIke the article said, because travel is limited, emissions are falling, air is clearer, and instead of taking steps forwards to allow the air to remain clear and for emissions to remain low, the government is falling back to bad habits.

This reduction in accountability decreases the costs of abatement allowing for an increase in emissions at the lower price. This will result in damages that are much greater than the abatement costs. Even though it would be efficient to reduce emissions, the failure to act will result in exponential more damage than the lower prices are worth.

In an article produced by the Week, while grim, parallels the Trump administration's coronavirus response to their response on climate change. https://theweek.com/articles/904641/coronavirus-fastforward-version-what-happen-climate-change
Trump has been slow to respond to the threat of Coronavirus which has lead to an exponential increase in infected individuals and deaths. The failure to put in place preventative measures has resulted in hospitals begin overwhelmed and all individuals needing to respond with extreme actions. Preventative measures, while they might not be fun to implement can prevent more extreme measures from being taken down the road in attempts to reverse damage. The same is with climate change. Since we have not taken preventive measures, it is most likely that we will be stuck in a similar situation as we are now- taking the most extreme measures last minute in efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.

Steven Black

It seems illogical to take action to reduce air quality during a time that air quality may matter the most. With everyone worried about hospitals being overwhelmed, intentionally increasing the at-risk population seems like a bad idea. I understand the desire to support the economy to mitigate the damage after the pandemic has passed; however, this could have been addressed in the $2T+ stimulus bill rather than reducing environmental regulation. Firms are not being asked to reduce their pollution output, simply maintain their current levels. We've discussed in class how their abatement costs were relatively low and these costs would have already been built into their budgets. If the costs really needed to be alleviated, a subsidy would be better than putting public health at risk.

This seems to be a classic example of marginal private costs diverging from marginal social costs. Firms are doing what they can to cut costs during this shutdown, and the abatement cost of not polluting appears to be among those costs being cut. The marginal social cost of the additional pollution is much greater than the marginal private cost, but when the decision is being left to the private firms, they will likely choose to cut that cost at the cost of public health. This is a time when we would need government regulation to correct the market inefficiencies and instead we are getting deregulation.

Layoffs in manufacturing are often cited as a reason for relaxing environmental regulations; however, that may be based on a false assumption. In the March jobs report (must be noted that it tracks the labor market through March 13), manufacturing was one of the few sectors of the economy that actually added jobs. The first couple weeks of the month were before the worst of the pandemic, but factories would not still be adding more jobs if they were so worried about cutting costs. Decreased demand in certain goods has been followed with increased demand for others, such as medical equipment, which has led many companies to begin producing medical equipment in their factories instead of their normal goods. With everything changing so much from day to day, it would be very interesting to see the next month's jobs report to see how this pandemic affected the manufacturing sector.

March Jobs Report:

NYTimes on Deregulation:

Valerie Marshall

The economic model that I thought of while reading this article is the costs of pollution versus abatement costs model we have frequently discussed in class. During this time of a global health pandemic in the form of a respiratory disease, I think the curve for the costs of air pollution would be shifted upward. This is because air pollution increases cases of respiratory illness, and damages people’s lungs, which would make them more susceptible to having serious health complications if they contracted coronavirus. Therefore the negative effects of air pollution are increased at this time, moving the efficient level of pollution prevention higher.

Trying to look at the positive side to this decision, a lot of data has been reported showing severe decreases in levels of air pollution in China and Europe due to lockdown orders because of coronavirus. While I have not seen this data for the U.S. yet, I would think this decrease in air pollution levels would also extend to the U.S. Therefore, while easing up on enforcement of air pollution standards will increase air pollution produced, since there is a huge decrease in commercial and industrial activity, this decision may not result in a net increase in pollution, and there may still be a net decrease in air pollution levels. I would imagine that much of the industrial production currently occurring is to produce masks and ventilators for fighting coronavirus, and in an effort to produce these life saving devices as quickly as possible, I think it is fair for the U.S. not to enforce air pollution standards on these industries. The counterargument to this is that this is a time when our current air pollution standards are not stringent enough and we need to reduce air pollution levels to as low as possible, so air pollution does not exacerbate the health crisis. I also agree with many of my classmates who are worried about what will happen once the pandemic is over, and if the administration choses to continue not to enforce air pollution standards, causing a large rebound in air pollution levels.

I found this article from Reuters which also discusses the EPA’s decision to relax enforcement https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-epa/trump-administration-eases-environmental-enforcement-during-outbreak-idUSKBN21D3DI . What caught my eye in this article is the reason the American Petroleum Institute cites for asking for relief from pollution enforcement. They say they are worried that the illness could reduce the number of healthy staff they have available to run operations, which would make it harder for them to comply with EPA regulations. While I do not know how true this statement is (I am sure the API has ulterior motives for asking for pollution enforcement to be relaxed), it did make me think of the many hourly workers employed by oil companies. If reducing enforcement reduces economic hardship on the oil companies, allowing them to continue to pay their hourly staff whether they are working or not, I think this decision would be worth it. I only hope that oil companies actually use their extra funds in this way.

Bridget Bartley

I keep on asking myself the question: is efficiency enough? Is the EPA's move to decrease pollution enforcement in an effort to keep corporations that pollute in some sort of economic equilibrium? Is that even the EPA's job, though? I am struggling to come to terms with a lot of things going on in the world at this time. This ease on pollution enforcement is something that I am really having trouble wrapping my head around. All anyone is saying these days is 'we need to flatten the curve' or 'social distancing isn't for you, it is for the immunocompromised individuals who can't fend off coronavirus so easily.' How can the EPA be justifying something that can leave society with a greater amount of such compromised individuals? With such sound scientific evidence that polluted air does such a thing?

I wonder how things will change if/when air pollution starts to rise from this recent plummet. It is bound to happen at some time, and, like the article mentioned, no one knows the appropriate threshold of particulate matter in the air at which the EPA may want to consider reversing this recent decision. Is something like this a slippery slope?

Bridget Bartley

I think I may have posted prematurely to writing out all of my thoughts. Is efficiency enough? The question has less collateral damage associated with it in the EPA's ease on air pollutant regulation. With the decrease in air pollution currently being observed, we really aren't (yet) seeing that influx of individuals whose airways and breathing capabilities are negatively impacted. Water...something that every human is still consuming in this world, pandemic or not. It is a staple that, if polluted, can lead to an abundance of health complications in itself. This USA Today article goes into a bit more detail about lead environmentalist's thoughts on the EPA's decision: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/03/27/coronavirus-crisis-epa-eases-key-permitting-enforcement-oversight/2925990001/

Within the article, Matthew Davis, a former EPA scientist now with the League of Conservation Voters is quoted saying, "This clear giveaway to corporate polluters for an indefinite period of time will only make public health worse, especially for the low income communities and communities of color suffering the most from toxic pollution and the COVID-19 pandemic." I think this quote speaks a lot for itself.


It's always interesting to think about putting yourself in a policy maker's shoes. Often times policy implemented fails to take into account the long term effects as there is pressure to "get stuff done" so to speak. I think that this is the case with the EPA's move to ease pollution enforcement. I can't imagine that the goal of the EPA is to put more individuals at risk during a global pandemic. I think that the only reasonable explanation for this action is failure to think ahead. The Covid-19 outbreak has put pressure on government's worldwide to respond. Most of the US Congress' response has been focused on mitigation thus far. I think that eventually there will be movements to restore the norms, but, for now, any government response is focused on getting certain businesses through this time of economic hardship. The current stimulus package has placed emphasis on helping businesses survive, rather than stopping the spread of the virus.
In the short term, having less emphasis on pollution enforcement seems like a good idea and is helpful to businesses. In the long term, this decision could exacerbate or even prolong the impacts on Covid-19.

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