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Trump is already making good on his promise to return America to an earlier time, a time that includes a great deal more air Pollution, Paul Krugman writes in Friday's column. He may not be able to bring all those blue collar jobs back, but hey, “in other ways Mr. Trump can indeed restore the world of the 1970s,” the columnist opens. “He can, for example, bring us back to the days when, all too often, the air wasn’t safe to breathe. And he’s made a good start by selecting Scott Pruitt, a harsh foe of pollution regulation, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Make America gasp again!”
Sure, Pruitt is a climate change denier, and that's terrible, but climate change is also kind of abstract. What people are not talking about with Pruitt is that he can imperil people even sooner. Krugman:
Think about what America was like in 1970, the year the E.P.A. was founded. It was still an industrial nation, with roughly a quarter of the work force employed in manufacturing, often at relatively high wages, in large part because of a still-strong union movement. (Funny how Trumpist pledges to bring back the good old days never mention that part.)
It was also, however, a very polluted country. Choking smog was quite common in major cities; in the Los Angeles area, extreme pollution alerts, sometimes accompanied by warnings that even healthy adults should stay indoors and move as little as possible, were fairly common.
It’s far better now — not perfect, but much better. These days, to experience the kind of pollution crisis that used to be all too frequent in Los Angeles or Houston, you have to go to places like Beijing or New Delhi. And the improvement in air quality has had clear, measurable benefits. For example, we’re seeing significant improvements in lung function among children in the Los Angeles area, clearly tied to reduced pollution.
The key point is that better air didn’t happen by accident: It was a direct result of regulation — regulation that was bitterly opposed at every step by special interests that attacked the scientific evidence of harm from pollution, meanwhile insisting that limiting their emissions would kill jobs.
That turned out not to be the case. Krugman points out what should seem obvious to anyone with a brain that better public health and a cleaner environment also bring about benefits to the economy. Still big business and even the EPA itself keep falsely claiming that regulating emissions and focusing on cleaner air is costly.
So, both our health and the economy are in for it. “But don’t expect rational arguments to that effect to sway the people who will soon be running the government,” Krugman writes ruefully. “After all, what’s bad for America can still be good for the likes of the Koch brothers. Besides, my correspondents keep telling me that arguing policy on the basis of facts and figures is arrogant and elitist, so there.”
The only slim consolation Krugman can find is that dirty air is a lot more visible and obvious than climate change and Americans will know exactly who to blame for it.
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