“It could be an enormously significant impact,” Revesz said. “Particulate matter is extremely harmful and it leads to a large number of premature deaths.”

In addition to making the ACE plan easier for the Trump administration to defend, the shift in methodology would make further regulatory rollbacks more likely.

The understanding of particulate matter that scientists at the EPA have held for decades is that even if the existence of particulate matter is under the safety limit of 12 micrograms per cubic meter, it can still endanger people breathing the air.

“Most scientists say particulate matter standards are like speed limits,” reported Friedman. “On many highways, a limit of 65 miles per hour is considered reasonable to protect public safety. But that doesn’t mean the risk of an accident disappears at 55 miles per hour, or even 25.”

The EPA’s interest in changing the mathematical calculations it uses to determine whether the air is safe comes just two weeks after the Trump administration revealed plans to raise the poverty line—resulting in fewer Americans officially living in poverty, even though the number of households struggling to afford basic necessities will not change.

The League of Conservation Voters called the EPA’s plan to change the public’s perception of the dangers of air pollution “on brand” for the Trump administration.

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