Multiple Air Pollutants Information Suppressed

Published Mar 29, 2003

As an alternative to the president's Clear Skies Act, Senators Thomas Carper (D-DE), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) proposed a measure that would control carbon dioxide in addition to sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluated this proposal but long withheld important results on the costs and benefits of the alternative bill from the senators.

Several months before the EPA finally released the results of their evaluation, a copy of an internal EPA briefing based on the study was leaked to the Washington Post.1 According to the briefing, the EPA concluded that the Senate proposal would cut the three pollutants earlier and in larger quantities than the Clear Skies Act, result in 17,800 fewer expected deaths by 2020, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions at "negligible" cost to industry.

The suppression of research on air pollution is of serious concern because of its enormous impact on public health. The Clean Air Act, which passed during the Nixon administration and was strengthened in 1990 during the first Bush administration, has saved US lives. For the period up to 1990, the EPA found that, without the act, "an additional 205,000 Americans would have died prematurely and millions more would have suffered illnesses ranging from mild respiratory symptoms to heart disease, chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks, and other severe respiratory problems. In addition, the lack of the Clean Air Act controls on the use of leaded gasoline would have resulted in major increases in child IQ loss and adult hypertension, heart disease and stroke."2 In its 1999 study, the EPA projected that in 2010 alone, the 1990 strengthening amendments "will prevent 23,000 premature deaths, and avert over 1.7 million incidents of asthma attacks . . . 67,000 incidents of chronic and acute bronchitis . . . 4.1 million lost work days."

According to the New York Times, EPA staff members recounted that they discussed the EPA's unreleased report indicating the advantages of the Carper-Gregg-Alexander-Chafee proposal at a May meeting with Jeffrey Holmstead, assistant administrator for air programs. As these EPA staffers contend, Holmstead wondered out loud, "How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?" Holmstead has since stated that he did not "recall making any specific remarks."3

  1. G. Gugliotta and E. Pianin, “EPA Witholds Air Pollution Analysis,” Washington Post, July 1, 2003.
  2. See See also data from the American Meteorological Society, online at
  3. J. Lee, “Critics Say E.P.A. Won’t Analyze Clean Air Proposals Conflicting with President’s Policies,” New York Times, July 14, 2003.