President Trump is well known for his use of Twitter. There has been much written about its effectiveness. Dino Grandoni writes in The Washington Post of how misleading Trump has been in his tweets boasting about his commitment to the “cleanest air in the world.” What are your views?
Three misleading things about Trump’s clean air tweet
President Trump boasted on Twitter Monday that the United States has the “Cleanest Air in the World – BY FAR!” He backed up that claim by tweeting out a map depicting little lung-choking soot hanging over the nation when compared to many areas of Africa, the Middle East and East Asia.
The president has made a habit out of pointing out America’s relatively clean air in interviews and in speeches. Just last week, Trump told the Associated Press, “I want the cleanest air on the planet and our air now is cleaner than it’s ever been.”
The United States indeed has far cleaner air than many other countries — especially developing ones with growing heavy-industry bases like India and China.
Even so, Trump’s Monday evening tweet is misleading in at least three different ways.
“America: the Cleanest Air in the World – BY FAR!” pic.twitter.com/rMtxHSnof4
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2018
First, if the map shows a win for anyone, it’s former President Obama. The map Trump tweeted out came from an April report done by the World Health Organization, or WHO. But it shows air quality data worldwide for 2016. That is, of course, one year before Trump took office.
Obama, the president at that time, had pursued a plan to curb even more emissions of the sort of soot shown in the map from the nation’s power sector. That plan has been scrapped by the Trump administration for one that relaxes pollution limits on power plants despite an analysis from Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency showing that Obama’s Clear Power Plan would have saved thousands of lives each year. Those particles are known to embed in the bloodstream and airways and are linked to deadly heart and lung diseases.
Even without that rule, concentrations of the tiny particulate matter have fallen through the United States since at least 2000. The cause is in part more economic than political: Many U.S. coal plants have shuttered as less carbon-intensive forms of electricity generation have grown, including natural gas, wind and solar power.
Second, the claim added to the map — that “none in [the] U.S.” are exposed to pollutions levels above WHO’s recommendations — is inaccurate. While vast swaths of America have good air quality, there are pockets of pollution in the United States that are cause for concern.
In total, 45 U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, have fine particulate concentrations above WHO’s recommended level, according to John Walke, a clean-air lawyer at the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council. That means tens of millions of Americans are exposed to that harmful fine particulate pollution — not none of them.
Finally, the United States does not have the world’s best air quality, as Trump claimed. According to WHO’s database of the annual average concentrations of fine particulate matter in urban areas, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and New Zealand each were less polluted than the United States in 2016.
Still, by that metric the United States is ranked No. 9. That’s hardly an achievement to scoff at. The president is right to say the United States has clean air — it’s just not superlatively so.
But the bigger truth behind Trump’s tweet is perhaps how it highlights the diverging ways the two major political parties have reacted to the success of U.S. air pollution controls.
Republicans like Trump look at America’s relatively clean air and say there is no need for additional air regulations that would unduly burden businesses. In fact, a few of the existing rules could be safely rolled back, they argue.
Democrats look at the same data and say that success is because of the air-pollution rules put in place in the 1970s and built up by successive presidential administrations. They look at the clear air and see proof that the existing rules work.
The Republican approach is the one winning out at the moment. The EPA is rolling back not just rules meant to curb power-plant emissions, but ones designed to control smog-forming pollution from automobiles, too.
For proof, look no further than the Twitter account of acting EPA administration Andrew Wheeler. Shortly after Trump posted the map, Wheeler retweeted it.