Association of Environmental Protection Agency regulation suspension with industrial economic viability and air quality in California, USA

As a project lead, I collected and analyzed data with code and publicized a report based on my analysis to global policymakers.

Photo of Emily Chang
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Please confirm you meet the following criteria

  • We have submitted the supplemental form linked in the description above
  • We are aged between 14 - 20 as of February 11, 2021
  • We live in the United States or its territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa)
  • We are not employed by, or directly related (parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • We have been working on this project for at least three months
  • We consent to Ashoka and/or GM featuring our work on their website, social media, and in other materials regarding this Challenge using the information in our application
  • We confirm we have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Erevna Page: Coronavirus Visualization Team:

Date You Started Your Project


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The fossil fuel industry believed environmental deregulation would bolster its financial standing during the pandemic. They used misinformation to mislead and lobby the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend air pollution regulations. The industry took advantage of the suspensions, causing increased pollution levels that endanger public health in a pandemic. We must fight back against this misguided belief to secure a clean environment.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

To answer the most pressing questions about this pandemic and provide trustworthy information to the public through several social media platforms, we spent our summers analyzing data and researching. We focused on investigating the US government’s claim that relaxing EPA regulations would help companies in their economic recovery while not having a substantial impact on the environment. Then, we divided our research into an economic portion and an environmental one. On the economic side, we looked for proxies for economic recovery at a regional level by industry and compared them to the potential benefit each sector would get from the relaxation of regulations. Environmentally, we looked for control-treatment pairs of counties by industry profiles to understand any correlation between the relaxation of regulations and pollution levels. We concluded that relaxing the regulations did not have a tangible impact on the economic recovery of the industry sectors they were meant to help, but had a considerable effect on air pollution. This study shows how important it is for governments to check the premises and look at correlations before using flawed logic to support public policy.

3. Please tell us how you are using science, technology, engineering or math to address your environmental challenge.

Air pollution regulations were suspended to financially support oil industries in a pandemic. To prove that this suspension was not meeting its expectations, we had to predict how the suspension and pandemic were impacting the financial health of the oil industry. We gathered unemployment data to evaluate how well the oil industry was currently doing. Then, we used artificial intelligence to forecast how unemployment levels would change in the future under pandemic and suspension conditions. We found that the suspension did not have its intended impact: unemployment levels continued to plummet even with the suspensions in place, meaning the suspensions never bolstered the financial health of the oil industry. At the same time, we collected environmental data indicating that air pollution levels under the suspension were on the rise. To warn the public about the effects of the suspension, we had to make our findings public. We programmed graphs that summarized our environmental and economic findings and posted them on Instagram. Computer science served as the cornerstone of our data-driven approach, allowing us to raise awareness about the detriments of environmental deregulation.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

This project began in 2018, with my resentment of the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifting of restrictions on chemicals known for poisoning endangered species. It continued in 2019 when the EPA made it easier to exploit Arctic oil reserves. The final straw came in 2020 when the agency suspended air pollution regulations that restricted emissions. For three years, I watched the EPA live in opposition to its title, but in 2020, the hypocrisy became applicable to me. I could no longer turn a blind eye as pollution encroached so close to home. It was time for me to actively fight these issues; I realized that while I am not an inhabitant of the North Pole, individuals nationwide were impacted as the agency's leniency began to threaten the air we breathe. I wanted to employ the immediacy of the suspension to change the agency’s history of deregulation.

5. Video (Keep it simple, your phone on selfie-mode is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

The Environmental Protection Agency was complicit in a global movement to deregulate the environment. Australia lifted water protections. Brazil removed rainforest protections. With so many countries intent permitting environmental pollution, I felt powerless to break the trend. Working as a changemaker emboldened me to set a new precedent with my federal agency. By working to lift a regulation suspension in one country, I can inspire others to do the same.

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

Our team first researched PM 2.5 levels to get a sense of how to efficiently monitor the environment and unemployment levels in tandem. PM 2.5 was our top choice because of its sensitivity; it accurately depicts environmental changes in real-time. After collecting this data from the EPA and California Labor Department, we generated graphs depicting significant changes in pre- and post- COVID pollution and workforce levels. These graphs determined our policy recommendations for the EPA.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

The report focuses on EPA regulations, unemployment, and COVID-19, meaning it is interdisciplinary in researching how COVID impacted both economy and environment. Furthermore, our data-driven approach qualified the work we did by backing up our ideas with concrete facts. Our project was also part of Erevna, a coalition for COVID research. As members of this organization, we were in contact with professors studying in similar areas, enabling us to widen our field of research. Through these connections, Erevna helped us receive advice which made our research and data evaluation more relevant.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made.

Our project centers around taking a more nuanced look at the relationships between pollution levels and lockdown measures. Our work was then shared with a Ph.D. researcher and became part of a worldwide dataset. This allowed us to have an international impact, as our research was cited by the Canadian Public Health Agency as well as researchers in Iran, Ecuador, and Ohio. We used this internationally-cited data to craft an interdisciplinary report on the correlation between environmental and economic effects of COVID-19 and EPA rollbacks. Then, we submitted our paper to Environmental Sciences Europe, where it was published in the most recent preprint. By telling others the lessons we have learned about environmental deregulation, we can warn the international community not to watch idly as environmental protection measures are allowed to slip.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

So far, we have profiled how air pollution and unemployment levels changed in Californian counties. What happens if we did the same, but for all 50 states? In collecting environmental and economic data from each US county, we could not only identify which regions have been abusing the EPA’s suspensions, but also paint a portrait of how the COVID crisis has impacted our nation environmentally and economically. Doing so would allow us to partner with local and state legislators to determine which areas need economic aid, or which communities require additional environmental regulations. The pandemic impacted each part of America differently, and our future work will allow the public and government to perceive that nuance and take action.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

Since my environmental findings were obtained from coding data, I publicized them by teaching a programming course for girls. My team partnered with the State Department to create a course on programming environmental data based on our results. Through the government’s learning management system, my team mentored girls from 13 countries on using data to study how humans impact nature. By teaching my students how my team used data to explore environmental issues, I empowered them to do the same.

11. How would you partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

Our team could host international changemaker workshops to combat misinformation about the environment. Misinformation within the EPA has led to environmentally destructive policies, but data-driven approaches could correct this. With other changemakers, we could facilitate the spread of policy-changing environmental data and encourage public awareness of the impact data has on informing policymakers. Doing this would educate people about the significance of policy in protecting the environment.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

In order to engage those who haven’t heard of our report, we could tout the international impact our project had, emphasizing the way our dataset has been used worldwide. Furthermore, we could describe the methods we used to attain our information to reaffirm the validity of our data and further convince potential sponsors to support us. Lastly, the people we worked with are prominent in the fields of data science and COVID-19 research, so we are well-backed and qualified in our research

14. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you? You’ll be able to select only one option.

  • Research

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Email

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or General Motors, who was it?

I discovered the Challenge thanks to the TechGirls Alumnae Engagement Opportunities newsletter. TechGirls is a State Department initiative.

Attachments (1)


This report is a preprint in an environmental journal, meaning it is in the process of being formally published. In the report, we summarize our investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation suspension. We describe our methodology, results, and analysis in greater detail. Currently, our paper is awaiting peer review and is still being edited. We collaborated with Dr. Franceszca Domimici at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in this study.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Sophia Pryor

Hi Emily! Amazing project - I love how empowered you felt to produce this research and use it to spread awareness not only in your community, but globally. I love your idea of expanding the idea to other states and using it to empower other changemakers. When you go to expand the project to map out air quality and economic impacts of covid - I would recommend partnering with environmental organizations in the communities to help mobilize your research to influence policy. Keep up the great work!