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Under Trump, US air quality slips for the first time in years

Trump recently boasted that air quality in the United States has "gotten better since I'm president." Unfortunately, he had it backwards.
Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky.
Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky., June 2, 2014.

In recent months, whenever Donald Trump is asked about the climate crisis, the president responds by talking about air quality -- as if they were the same thing. They're not.

But Trump keeps pretending anyway, even going so far as to argue that air quality in the United States has improved since he took office. At a recent event in Ireland, the Republican boasted, "We have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it's gotten better since I'm president."

Trump added at a campaign rally last night, "We have among the cleanest and sharpest -- crystal clean, you've heard me say it, I want it crystal clean -- air and water anywhere on Earth."

There are three relevant angles to this. The first is that it's a clumsy way to dodge questions about the climate crisis. The second is that Trump's claims about U.S. air quality are wrong.

And third, as the Associated Press reported yesterday, U.S. air quality has actually gotten worse since Trump became president.

After decades of improvement, America's air may not be getting any cleaner.Over the last two years the nation had more polluted air days than just a few years earlier, federal data shows. While it remains unclear whether this is the beginning of a trend, health experts say it's troubling to see air quality progress stagnate. [...]There were noticeably more polluted air days each year in the president's first two years in office than any of the four years before, according to new Environmental Protection Agency data analyzed by The Associated Press.

Making matters worse, the Trump administration is unveiling an energy plan this morning intended to -- you guessed it -- boost the coal industry. USA Today reported:

Aging coal-fired power plants would get a new lease on life under the industry-friendly proposal known as the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule, under the initial rule unveiled in August. [...]The preliminary ACE proposal the EPA released in August would give states broad latitude in how they would regulate power plants' greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming as well as other pollutants, such as smog, soot and mercury.

If this sounds at all familiar, it's probably because the EPA's initial assessment of the plan found that the increased emissions would lead to 1,400 premature deaths annually over the next decade.

During a recent interview in the U.K., Trump said the United States must have "crystal clean air." I'm not altogether sure what that means, or even what he thinks it means, but the rhetoric is increasingly difficult to take seriously.

The good news is, those Americans who don't breathe air have nothing to worry about.