EPA Made it Harder to Enact New Air Pollution Regulations

Published Nov 2, 2021

What happened: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a final rule that would significantly alter how the agency analyzes the benefits and costs of new limits on air pollution rules.

Why it matters: The EPA’s rule would diminish or obscure many of the benefits of public health protections and downplay the harmful health impacts of air pollution, making it more difficult to enact public health and environmental protections.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) cost-benefit rule requires that the agency consider all the economic costs of curbing an air pollutant but disregard many of the incidental benefits that arise, such as illnesses and deaths avoided by enacting a potential regulation. In particular, the rule requires the agency to disregard “co-benefits,” which are additional benefits that arise when implementing certain regulations. For instance, curbing mercury emissions from power plants will also cause a reduction in particulate matter pollution, which in turn will lead to thousands of lives saved and thousands of people not experiencing other harmful health effects. In this example, the EPA’s cost-benefit rule would require that the agency discount the substantial benefits that arise from a reduction in particulate matter, thereby requiring the agency to ignore the science showing the substantial public health gains that arise from this co-benefit effect.

The EPA’s rule additionally mandated a set of methodologies that would interfere with the current science-based processes that the agency use to evaluate pollution risks. The rule would impose new restrictions on how health endpoints are selected and quantified, likely resulting in the exclusion or underestimation of direct and co-benefits. The rule would also expand out the role that cost-benefit analyses play in agency decisionmaking processes, even in rules with smaller economic impacts, which would likely result in significant delays of EPA rulemaking and, because many benefits cannot be quantified, would make costs to industry an even more important factor in how the EPA decides to enact public health protections.

The scientific and medical community are strongly in opposition of the rule. For instance, a collection of national health and medical organizations, including the American Lung Association, wrote the EPA a public comment stating that there was no justification for this action and that the rule would ignore the invaluable health benefits of cleaning up air pollutants. By enacting this rule, the EPA prioritized an action that directly undermined the agency’s ability to carry out its mission to protect public health, which in turn could result in harm in communities, especially underserved communities, across the nation.