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37° Good Afternoon
OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Don’t go back to dirty habits

Serious progress to clean the air, water and land is threatened by deregulation.

Many Long Islanders, including local scouts, commemorate Earth

Many Long Islanders, including local scouts, commemorate Earth Day by picking up trash. Photo Credit: Dick Yarwood

Suffolk County got an F.

The test was on air quality, and the grade came from the American Lung Association. Suffolk failed last year, too.

Nassau also would have gotten an F, except that state and federal officials have placed no air-quality monitors within its borders. But it’s surrounded by burgs that failed — Suffolk, New York City and Westchester County.

Those F’s were for ozone, a particularly nasty pollutant. We know it as smog. It can cause shortness of breath and asthma attacks. At high levels, it increases the risk of dying prematurely. Even at lower levels, it’s associated with death by cardiovascular disease, stroke and respiratory issues.

And we’re in bad company: More than half of Americans breathe air in their home areas that earned an F.

What makes this especially worth noting as we commemorate Earth Day on Sunday are the origins of ozone.

It develops from gases from the tailpipes of cars, the engines of lawn mowers, and the smokestacks of coal and natural gas-fired power plants, chemical plants, factories and refineries. Some of it forms in the Midwest and travels east on air currents. And it’s made worse by higher temperatures.

The good news is that tougher federal regulations have led to a three-quarters drop in the number of unhealthy ozone days over the last two decades; Suffolk had 23 over the last three years. The bad news is that current rates of emissions and climate change could cause nine more such days per year by 2050, according to a Harvard University study.

So it’s especially worrisome that the Trump administration and its congressional cohorts are working to roll back regulations that have reduced pollutants and tried to slow global warming. It’s a Republican mantra: Eliminate burdensome, job-killing regulations. And it’s utterly hypocritical. The administration itself says so.

Confused?

Take a trip back to March 2. If you remember the day, it’s probably because Long Island was getting belted by a nor’easter. President Donald Trump was defending proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum and backing away from a bipartisan background-check bill for guns he had supported, and the White House was reeling over the resignation of Hope Hicks and the rumored departure of H.R. McMaster.

So you probably missed the late-Friday dump of a report from the White House’s own Office of Management and Budget on, yes, regulations. That’s probably what the White House wanted. Because the report demolished the GOP argument on regulations.

In looking at “major” federal regulations between 2006 and 2016, including all of Barack Obama’s tenure, it found that their aggregate benefits dwarfed their aggregate costs. The highest benefits and highest costs — $706 billion vs. $65 billion, at the upper end of estimated ranges — were for environmental regulations, specifically on air pollution. Like higher fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks and lower toxic emissions from power plants.

What are those benefits? Primarily, lower health care costs. Which happens when people breathe cleaner air.

We’ve made a lot of progress in cleaning our environment over the last 50 years. We shouldn’t be going backward. Not when our air and water still aren’t as clean as they should be, when species are disappearing at an alarming rate, when our ocean corals are dying, when ice shelves are melting and the seas are lapping at our doors.

There are things each of us can do, on Earth Day and all days. Use a reusable shopping bag, not plastic. Pick up some trash. Plant flowers for butterflies and bees. Water the lawn less. Turn out the lights when you’re not in the room. Walk when you don’t have to drive.

It’s all helpful. It all matters.

And so do the regulations.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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