with Paulina Firozi


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.

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.


— An 11th-hour stay: The Supreme Court late last week handed a notable but temporary victory to the federal government when it halted a landmark climate change case brought by young activists. That suit, filed under Obama and continuing under Trump, was brought by "21 young people who argue that the failure of U.S. leaders to combat climate change violates their constitutional right to a clean environment,” The Post’s Brady Dennis reports.

What may happens next: One law professor, Michael Gerrard, at Columbia University, said it was "extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for the Supreme Court to enjoin a trial when the Court of Appeals is still considering the case." In response, the kids' attorneys filed a 103-page rejoinder arguing that the Trump administration had not met the legal bar for a stay.

Read this profile of their lawyer, Julia Olson, from The New York Times's John Schwartz.

— Ex-Monsanto exec to get promotion in Trump administration: The White House announced plans to nominate Aurelia Skipwith, a former official at Monsanto, to be the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Hill reports. She currently serves as the deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks and previously served more than six years at Monsanto. She has also worked at the Department of Agriculture.


— Welcome back, snow: Over the weekend, mountains in the Mid-Atlantic saw their first accumulation of snowfall for the year, which The Post’s Ian Livingston reports is “more or less right on time for the highest terrain in the Mid-Atlantic.”

Elsewhere: A powerful storm could develop along the East Coast at the end of the week, bringing heavy rain, mountain snow and strong coastal winds and high seas, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. “It is too soon to project exactly how this storm will unfold and where it will hit hardest. There is also the chance it is steered more out to sea, minimizing the effects.”

— Austin's water woes: After record rainfall and subsequent flooding last week led to elevated levels of silt in the water,  residents in Austin, Tex. experienced a citywide notice to boil water Monday for at least three minutes before consuming it. “A high level of debris, silt and mud requires additional filtration that slows the process of getting treated water into the system," the Texas Tribune reports.

— “The evil purple urchin”: A plum-sized shellfish with quarter-inch spikes has been devouring underwater forests off Northern California’s coast. These forests are critical for oceans because they “absorb carbon emissions and they provide critical habitat and food for a wide range of species,” the New York Times reports. “But when climate change helped trigger a 60-fold explosion of purple urchins off Northern California’s coast, the urchins went on a feeding frenzy and the kelp was devoured.”


— D.C. seeks autonomous-car standards: Before Ford can establish a driverless transportation system in Washington in 2021, officials in the District are calling for the automaker to meet standards on safety, cybersecurity and pollution, The Post’s Michael Laris reports. The city’s interagency Autonomous Vehicles Working Group created an “Autonomous Vehicle’s Principles Statement” that notes vehicles “should help reduce the carbon footprint of the District, and limit other forms of transportation-related pollution.” City-level standards could be restricted if federal lawmakers pass driverless legislation, Laris adds.

— Germany to help out with LNG terminal: German Chancellor Angela Merkel says her government will pay for part of a $576 million liquefied natural gas, or LNG, shipping terminal, the Wall Street Journal reports, in an effort to ease trade tensions with the United States as Trump weighs sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. “German and U.S. officials said Berlin hoped embracing U.S. gas might help solve a protracted trade dispute and possibly even defuse threats by Washington" over the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany and make the latter European nation more dependent on Russian leader Vladimir Putin.



  • Brookings Institution holds a panel discussion on “Renewable Energy and India’s energy transition."
  • The World Resources Institute’s Washington Forest Legality Week 2018 begins.

Coming Up

  • Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler is scheduled to speak at the Shale Insight 2018 conference on Wednesday.
  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds an event on Wednesday.
  • American University hosts an event on “The Private Governance Response to Climate Change” on Wednesday.
  • The American Council on Renewable Energy holds a webinar on “US Cities are Driving Demand for Renewables” on Wednesday.
  • The Natural Gas Roundtable holds a panel discussion on Wednesday.

— "This is what they call devastation": Residents of Mexico Beach, Fla. are trying to pick up the pieces after Hurricane Michael. A video report from The Post's Alice Li, Jon Gerberg, and Whitney Shefte: 

Mexico Beach residents pick up what's left of their lives after Hurricane Michael destroyed most homes and businesses. (The Washington Post)