Energy & Environment

Trump EPA finalizes air rule that critics say favors polluters


The Trump administration on Wednesday finalized a rule changing how incoming administrations evaluate their air regulations, something critics say will undermine future attempts to reduce air pollution. 

The rule changes how the government justifies its own air pollution regulations, limiting how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) weighs carbon pollution that impacts climate change as well as the benefits of tackling multiple air pollutants at once.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the new rule at an event with the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, which backed the changes.

“Up to now there have been no regulations to hold us, the EPA, accountable to a standardized process and guarantee the public can now see how those calculations informed decisions,” Wheeler said.

The rule dictates how the agency must compile its cost-benefit analysis for future air rules — a lengthy, technical pro-con list defending a rule that is most often scrutinized by staffers and those who plan to sue over their regulations.

“What they’ve done is essentially manipulate and rig the cost-benefit analysis so that when EPA in the future gets back to their mission of protecting the environment and fighting climate change it will be much harder to justify their rules,” Amit Narang of Public Citizen, a left-leaning advocacy group, said when the rule was first proposed.

“This is going to have to be one of the first things the next administration and EPA will have to get rid of to get back to doing their jobs,” Narang added.

The rule will apply to any new regulation proposed under the Clean Air Act, a law President-elect Joe Biden is likely to turn to in order to meet his goals of getting the U.S. on a path to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It’s also one of the most life-saving laws on the books. In 2011, the EPA estimated the Clean Air Act would prevent 230,000 early deaths between 1990 and this year.

The EPA gave a preview of how the new cost-benefit process would be used when rolling out a mercury rule earlier this year.

The rule didn’t change the standards power plants must meet for reducing mercury, but the assessment of the rule no longer included the benefits those same pollution controls provide in reducing dangerous fine particulate matter like soot.

A rule that went from saving consumers $90 billion under the Obama administration would now cost power plants $4 million to $6 million under the Trump administration analysis, making it ripe for a court challenge. 

Cost-benefit analyses do typically include analysis of a wide range of impacts, which in the environmental arena can mean weighing lives saved from reduced air pollution while monetizing the benefits of fighting climate change globally as well as assessing regulatory impacts like job loss and increased costs. 

Under the rule, the EPA would not include co-benefits in the cost-benefit analysis but could instead consider them in a separate document.

During the rollout of the rule, Wheeler complained of “the activist media, who are ignoring what we are trying to do here and mischaracterizing this. This is all about transparency and conducting our rulemakings in a transparent fashion.”

But environmental and science groups were quick to offer criticism.

“This new rule has no scientific, public health, economic or legal justification, and is a sharp break with past precedent. It’s aimed purely at rigging the rulemaking process in favor of polluters. The EPA’s political leaders are directing the agency’s staff to ignore benefits and undervalue human health, making it harder for the agency to protect people, but cheaper and easier for powerful industries to pollute our air with impunity,” Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union for Concerned Scientists, said in a release.

Tags Andrew Wheeler cost-benefit analysis Environmental Protection Agency EPA Joe Biden Public Citizen

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