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New Trump rule would reduce health benefits in air pollution decisions

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is expected to announce a final rule on Wednesday to weaken the federal authority to issue clean air and climate change rules by recalculating the costs of pollution to human health and safety – and the benefits of control this pollution.

The new rule is the latest in a wave of final Trump-era policies from the Environmental Protection Agency, as those appointed by President Trump seek to conclude four years of roll back or weaken over 100 environmental rules and policies.

But the cost-benefit rule, which changes the way the EPA modifies economic analyzes of Clean Air Act regulations to limit future air pollution controls, is unlikely to survive the new Biden administration, which could quickly reverse Rule.

“A Biden administration could just come in and come up with a different rule,” said Steven J. Milloy, who serves as an informal environmental policy advisor to members of the Trump administration and is the author of the book “Scare Pollution: Why and How to Fix “In the end, these final Trump rules won’t really matter, other than they’ll have some political rhetorical value to people like me.”

Had Mr. Trump won the presidential election, the rule could have had a profound effect on the legal power of the federal government to weaken existing rules on air pollution, while limiting its power to put in place rigorous air pollution controls. pollution in the future.

The Trump administration appears poised to welcome the rule as if it will have a lasting impact. Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator, is expected to present it at a virtual event hosted by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization, which touted Mr Wheeler’s speech as a “major political announcement.”

The rule would change the way the EPA calculates the economic costs and benefits of the new clean air and climate change rules by reducing the value of certain public health benefits of those rules. This in turn could have helped him defend such setbacks in court and cement Trump’s legacy of industry-friendly pollution control.

Mr Wheeler formally proposed the rule change in June, after years of complaints from fossil fuel companies that the economic formulas the federal government used to justify pollution controls unfairly hurt them. Under the Obama administration, the EPA drafted a rule to limit toxic mercury pollution from power plants, estimating it would cost the electric utility industry $ 9.6 billion a year. But a first analysis found that reducing mercury would save just $ 6 million a year in health costs.

To justify this glaring imbalance, the Obama administration found an additional $ 80 billion in health “co-benefits” from the accidental reduction in soot and nitrous oxide that would occur as side effects of blood control. mercury.

In May, the Trump administration completed a rollback of Obama’s mercury rule that excluded these co-benefits.

The new rule would expand this measure by eliminating or reducing the focus on co-benefits in all new Clean Air Act regulations.

In his June announcement of the proposed rule, Wheeler said the EPA would continue to calculate the economic value of these co-benefits. But he said those calculations would no longer be used to defend the rules. “The co-benefits would not be used to justify the rule,” he said at the time, noting specifically that the change would mean regulations like the Obama-era mercury rule would no longer be defensible.

“The way the Obama administration used co-benefits to calculate the mercury rule and other rules – they were playing a shell game,” he said.

Historically, the economic costs of regulating pollutants such as mercury or greenhouse gases that warm the planet often outweigh the direct benefits. But these rules also tend to reduce emissions of another deadly pollutant: fine industrial soot, also known as particulate matter.

By reducing emissions of tiny particles that are harmful to the lungs, called PM 2.5, clean air rules that are primarily aimed at controlling different pollutants can save thousands of lives by lowering asthma rates. and lung disease. And, in April, Harvard researchers published the first nation-wide study linking long-term exposure to PM 2.5 and death rates from Covid-19.

Political experts have said that the new Trump rule, if in place for four years, could help the agency defend the rollback of Obama-era rules on greenhouse pollution from global warming, by ruling out the public health benefits of PM 2.5 which would also come with rules.

As it stands, however, the Biden administration is on the verge of reinstating those climate rules – although the legal process to do so could take over a year. Experts said it would likely take around six months to reverse the new cost-benefit rule, so that it would no longer be in place as the Biden administration reinstated the Obama-era rules on mercury and greenhouse gases that warm the climate.

“It’s like breaking all the calculators on your way out the door,” said Jack Lienke, director of regulatory policy at the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law. “People who come in can buy new calculators. It’s just an obstacle and it takes time. It’s just another annoyance to deal with for the incoming administration. “