Countless Deaths Tied to Trump Admin Decimation of Environmental Protections During Pandemic, Experts Say

Trump administration rollbacks of environmental protections since the start of the coronavirus pandemic have increased levels of pollution in the air and groundwater - something experts say has led to deaths across the United States.

Public health and environmental experts say "there's nobody watching" U.S. oil and gas companies along with other leading pollutant operations after the industry complained about being unable to do business during the lockdown. An Associated Press report released Monday highlighted Environmental Protection Agency data that 40 percent fewer pollution tests of smokestacks were conducted between March and April this year. Such rollbacks on anti-pollution rules and waste have likely already lead to countless deaths tied to heart, lung disease and premature births, experts say.

Environmental deregulation has included North Dakota groundwater testing around natural gas plants, surges in New Mexico noxious gas levels and thousands of pollution level waivers allowing companies to bypass any and all hazardous health precautions. Waivers, the EPA says, which cited the COVID-19 outbreak as a reason for needing to reduce environmental rules.

"As surely as night follows day there are going to be an increased number of deaths from those causes," said biology professor and director of the Program for Global Health and the Common Good, Philip J. Landrigan, in an AP interview responding to the Trump administration's environmental protection rollbacks.

Air pollution alone is tied to increased risks of stroke, heart disease, lung disease and premature births. Water pollution is tied to countless additional public health risks, experts warn.

The AP report revealed that 3,000 waivers which were granted during the pandemic directly cited the pandemic as the reason for requesting environmental protection rollbacks to continue conducting business. EPA spokesman James Hewitt said the waivers do not allow recipients to exceed pollution limits but probes will continue for those who "did not act responsibly under the circumstances."

Newsweek reached out to the EPA Monday morning for additional context on the anti-pollution waivers received primarily by oil and gas companies. Nearly all the companies which requested COVID-19 waivers said it was intended to minimize risk to workers during the pandemic, but regulators say a handful were simply attempting to cut costs.

"We believe that by taking these measures, we can do our part to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus," Tim Peterkoski, environmental auditing manager for Marathon Petroleum, informed the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Marathon requested permission to skip environmental testing at refineries and gas stations in Michigan, Texas, North Dakota and California.

"The harm from this policy is already done," said Cynthia Giles, the EPA's former assistant administrator under the Obama administration. The agency told the AP it will end the COVID-19 "enforcement clemency" by the end of August.

Port Arthur environmental activist Hilton Kelley responded to increasing Texas Gulf Coast pollution levels by highlighting a story about the public housing project he grew up in next to oil refineries: "you'd always hearing about someone dying of cancer, always smelling smells, watching little babies using nebulizers," he told the AP in April.

Reacting to the pandemic Trump administration environmental rollbacks Kelley continued, "That's a death sentence for us. Now we may not drop dead that day. But when you're inundated day after day [by hazardous emissions] we're dead. We're dead."

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Floor hands move drilling pipe to a storage area on a Barnett Shale natural gas drilling rig in the 18,000 acre grounds of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on December 17, 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas. The 11,500' well is owned by Chesapeake Energy Corporation and drilled by a new model Mountain Rig leased for its smaller profile and drilling platform. ROBERT NICKELSBERG / Contributor/Getty Images