EPA Nixes Trump Clean Air Rule for Hurting Public Health

Under the soon-to-be-abandoned Trump-era policy, regulators considered human lives saved as an intangible benefit of pollution control.

The Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Kent County, Maryland, has for decades served as a critical habitat to hundreds of migratory fowl thanks to its delicate ecosystem that relies on pollution-free tidal marshes. (Courthouse News photo/Brandi Buchman)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Ditching a cost-benefit analysis structure that ignored how Clean Air Act regulation can save lives, the Environmental Protection Agency touted Thursday its intent to “rely on the best available science.”

The EPA’s revocation follows several months of internal reviews ordered by President Joe Biden on his first day in office. Per the order, which directed officials to review all EPA regulations and policies established by his predecessor, the EPA said Thursday it will rescind Trump’s so-called Benefit-Cost rule policy in its entirety because it does not “protect public health and the environment.” 

Issued in December, Trump’s rule ordered the agency to account for all the economic costs of regulating air pollutants without considering various incidental benefits that new pollution curbs might bring, like reducing pollution-caused human diseases or deaths or increasing quality of life. Cost-benefit calculations typically weigh projected costs of implementing a clean-air regulation against potential public health benefits.

The Trump policy reformulated social-cost calculations to include “reductions in societal well-being” among economic factors, defining that term as the “value lost to society of all the goods and services that will not be produced and consumed as regulated entities reallocate resources to comply with the regulation.”

EPA Administrator Michael Regan had harsh words for the outgoing policy Thursday, saying it ad limited the EPA’s “critical authority under the Clean Air Act to protect the public from harmful air pollution, among other threats.”

“We will continue to fix the wrongs of the past and move forward aggressively to deliver on President Biden’s clear commitment to protecting public health and the environment,” Reagan continued.

His agency noted Thursday that the Benefit-Cost Rule “imposed broad restrictions and requirements on when and how the agency must conduct benefit-cost analyses for Clean Air Act rulemakings without explaining why those requirements were needed.”

The Trump administration rolled back well over 100 environmental policies that conservative groups bemoaned as handicaps to industrial business. The Trump-era’s Benefit-Cost rule could have led to increased rollbacks on emissions requirements for power plants and other pollution sources.

At the time of its implementation Trump’s EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler tried to cloak the rule as a boon for citing a need for public transparency. “The new rule requires that important information on the costs and benefits of significant Clean Air Act regulations be made available to the public,” he said.

Public health groups viewed the EPA’s rollback Thursday as a marker that the U.S. is once again prioritizing data and public health. Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, noted in a statement that the Trump-era would have “artificially reduced the ‘value’ of air pollution cleanup.”

“We are very heartened to see this Administration recognize the real value of cleaning up dangerous pollutants that harm health,” Wimmer said.

While the Biden administration expects to issue a final rule on the matter later this year, the EPA’s interim rule will become effective one month after its publication in the Federal Register.

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