EPA to reconsider cost benefit analysis of air pollution on human life

EPA to reconsider cost benefit analysis of air pollution on human life
© Stefani Reynolds

The Trump administration will soon rewrite the factors it uses to determine the health risks of air pollution, a move critics warn will make it harder to place limits on emissions.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Harris goes after DOJ antitrust probe of automakers over emissions | Trump on energy-efficient light bulbs: 'I always look orange' | Climate change only briefly discussed in third presidential debate Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections MORE defended the change in a memorandum to staff dated May 13 and made public Tuesday as a way to rectify inconsistencies in the current cost-benefit analyses used by the agency across all sectors.

“Benefits and costs have historically been treated differently depending on the media office and the underlying authority. This has resulted in various concepts of benefits, costs and other factors that may be considered,” Wheeler wrote. “This memorandum will initiate an effort to rectify these inconsistencies through statute-specific actions.”

The memo, labeled, “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Rulemaking Process,” is a direct result of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Trump is failing on trade policy Trump holds call with Netanyahu to discuss possible US-Israel defense treaty MORE’s regulatory reform agenda, according to Wheeler. That executive order asked agencies to identify rules that “impose costs that exceed benefits.”

Wheeler said EPA found stakeholders regularly said the costs stemming from environmental regulations outweighed the benefits.

“I have determined that the agency should proceed with benefit-cost reforms using a media-specific approach, taking into account the variety of statutory programs,” Wheeler wrote.

The reforms will span EPA’s offices of Air and Radiation, Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, Land and Emergency Management and Water. The Office of Air and Radiation will be the first to submit their proposal “later this year.”

The memo didn’t identify specific changes to be made but told agency heads to use “sound economic and scientific principles.”

The Trump administration has long argued that Obama administration over-estimated the health risks for various environmental regulations, often to the detriment of industry.

“With these improvements to our regulatory decision-making, the EPA is taking another step to provide the public with a more open federal government and more effective environmental and public health protection,” Wheeler wrote.

Critics warn the shift will make it easier for the Trump administration to take the heat off rollbacks to key Obama administration pollution rules like the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

For example, EPA had initially calculated that repealing and replacing the climate policy for its proposed Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, would result in an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year.

However, under the new analytical model, the numbers would be significantly reduced, critics warn.

EPA, however, said the new methodology would not be included in the cost-benefit analysis accompanying the ACE rule, expected to be finalized in June.

“We are considering changes to how such benefits are calculated. No change to this scientific method will be made unless and until the new approach has been peer reviewed. EPA is constantly evaluating approaches to improve transparency and communicate uncertainty regarding costs and benefits of its regulatory actions," an EPA spokesperson told The Hill.

Industry representatives hailed EPA’s planned rule change.

“We applaud EPA for taking the historic step to advance common-sense regulatory policy that ensures its regulations will do more good than harm,” said American Forest & Paper Association President Donna Harman in a statement.

The National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons also praised the decision as necessary reform.

“This announcement isn’t deregulation; it’s better regulation. Through this new initiative, the EPA will get regulations done right the first time, delivering clarity and transparency for manufacturers,” he said.