Even as Covid-19 cases reach record highs across the US, and calls for racial justice reverberate across the country as never before, the Trump administration continues to prioritize industry profits over children’s health. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing about its latest concession to polluters – a proposal changing how costs and benefits are calculated in Clean Air Act rulemaking.
Cost benefit analysis is the process of comparing the full costs to society of a given regulatory action with the full benefits of that action. Far from a simple accounting formula, the process of accounting for costs and benefits cuts to the heart of how, and whether, the EPA prioritizes health and wellbeing. Trump’s EPA is trying to make the costs of regulation look larger and the benefits look smaller – the better to further a polluter-friendly deregulatory agenda. The proposal, dubbed “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process,” is actually an attack on public health, disguised as an effort to bring order to an inconsistent technical approach.
Because air pollution harms vulnerable groups disproportionately, this proposal is an attack specifically on the health of babies, children, pregnant women, Black and brown Americans, older adults, and those with underlying health conditions like asthma and heart disease.
Four of our staff members delivered testimony at this hearing by telephone, laying out the many reasons Moms Clean Air Force strongly opposes this proposal. EPA should maintain the existing, longstanding practice of calculating the full benefits and costs of pollution rules, and withdraw this proposal.
What follows are excerpts from my testimony:
EPA already has a long-standing practice of evaluating costs and benefits of Clean Air Act rules, based on scientific and economic standards, through peer-reviewed guidelines. There is zero evidence that there are problems with this practice, or that this practice is not working. The proposal under discussion today is trying to solve a problem that does not exist. The evidence for that is within EPA’s own proposal.
In explaining the reason this rule is being promulgated, EPA writes, “The EPA opened a public docket in April 2017 to solicit feedback and identify regulations that impose costs that exceed benefits.” So, EPA decided that some regulations imposed costs that exceed benefits, despite the fact that these regulations had already been evaluated for costs and benefits as laid out in EPA’s peer-reviewed, science-based guidelines.
EPA continues: “Among the public comments received, a large cross-section of stakeholders stated that the agency either underestimated costs, overestimated benefits, or evaluated benefits and costs inconsistently in its rulemakings.”
Who are these unnamed stakeholders who are concerned about overestimating benefits? As policy director for Moms Clean Air Force and as a mom, I can assure you that these are not those 46% of Americans who live in an area with unhealthy air. These are not those families living close to heavy industry, living near heavily trafficked roads, living next to oil and gas operations, fighting for their children’s health every day.
We are actually concerned about the opposite problem – that the full benefits of reducing pollution are not adequately monetized by the agency when considering rules. For example, the improved birth outcomes that result from reducing particle pollution, such as reducing the number of preterm births and low birth weight babies, don’t get counted when EPA considers rules that would reduce particles. That means that the many benefits from regulating harmful emissions are already undervalued by EPA.
As my mom always says, actions speak louder than words. Mr. Wheeler’s actions are showing us his true intent: to undercount the substantial and real health benefits of reducing pollution.
The cost benefit proposal is a handout to industry under the guise of transparency. There is no evidence of a lack of transparency. The process is already transparent. Instead, this is an attempt to make pollution appear less harmful than it is – less harmful than the scientists and economists and public health experts are telling us.
And that goes expressly against the agency’s mission to protect public health.