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CNN —  

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Tuesday a proposal to retain, without changes, standards for particulate matter pollution, going against the recommendations of the agency’s own scientists.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to periodically review air quality standards for particulate matter to ensure public health and welfare.

“The US has made incredible strides in reducing particulate matter concentrations across the nation,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said on Tuesday. “Based on review of the scientific literature and recommendation from our independent science advisors, we are proposing to retain existing (particulate matter) standards which will ensure the continued protection of both public health and the environment.”

The agency’s decision has been met with harsh criticism from environmental groups, who believe the standards are not strict enough to protect human health, especially when considering the coronavirus pandemic the country is currently facing.

“The last thing we should be doing right now is making it harder to breathe,” said League of Conservation Voters Legislative Director Matthew Davis. “This would have been a bad policy decision even before we were facing a pandemic that early research indicates is exacerbated by exactly this kind of air pollution – now it is simply unthinkable.”

CNN’s Greg Wallace contributed to this report.