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CATF Statement on EPA Proposal on Costs and Benefits of Clean Air Act Regulations

June 4, 2020 Work Area: Power Plants

Hayden Hashimoto, Legal Fellow for Clean Air Task Force, issued the following statement on a new anti-regulatory proposal from EPA:

“Today, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing yet another step to promote polluters’ interests—proposing a rule that would distort longstanding metrics for evaluating the costs and benefits of Clean Air Act regulations, thereby seriously impairing its ability to protect public health and the environment. This proposal has no legitimate purpose, but rather is intended to obstruct and limit future environmental regulations.

“This proposal, for which the Agency has no statutory authority, would expand EPA’s move to distinguish certain benefits based on whether the Agency claims they are targeted, most recently seen in the reversal of the “appropriate and necessary” finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. For polluters and other opponents of environmental regulation, the inconvenient reality is that when a complete analysis and comparison of costs and benefits is done, the public health benefits of regulation have often easily outweighed the compliance costs for industry. Indeed, EPA’s own recent study of the costs and benefits of the landmark 1990 Clean Air Act amendments programs estimated that benefits exceeded costs by a factor of more than 30 to 1. And of course, those numbers don’t even include the unquantified benefits of reducing air pollution. For example, reducing the disproportionate burden from air pollution suffered by minority communities and economically disadvantaged persons helps create a more fair and just society, but the Agency has not ascribed a dollar value to this benefit.

“These facts create a difficult problem for opponents of regulation—including this EPA—who would like to argue that the costs of environmental regulations outweigh the benefits. The solution they’ve come up with here is simple and absurd: if they can’t win an unbiased comparison, it’s time to change the rules by putting a thumb on the scale. In this case, the rules they are attempting to change are basic mainstream economic principles.

“This mistake is just the latest chapter in a broad effort to promote Trump’s deregulatory agenda and constrain EPA’s ability to promote public health and protect the environment. Just months ago, the Trump EPA proposed a rule that could force the Agency to ignore the best available science in making public health decisions, based on arbitrary data availability criteria that are unrelated to the quality of the science. We’ve also seen this administration dismiss or ignore science and economic principles in its proposal not to update the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for particulate matter. EPA also attempted to bar recipients of EPA grants (including some of the best researchers in their fields) from serving on scientific advisory committees, a policy that was rejected by the D.C. Circuit Court.

“The bottom line is that the Trump EPA’s attempts to tie its own hands are a transparent effort to benefit industry at the expense of the American people.  All benefits of environmental regulation must be fully considered in a comprehensive analysis as part of reasonable decision-making, regardless of whether they are “co-benefits” or have been assigned a dollar value, and it is important to consider who benefits from EPA’s actions. The Agency cannot dismiss significant regulatory benefits in favor of its political agenda. Such an approach would be unlawful, arbitrary and capricious, unsupported in the Clean Air Act, and inconsistent with existing agency guidance and best practices for economic analysis. We strongly urge the EPA to withdraw this unjustified and unlawful proposal.”

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