Trump EPA Finalizes Rule to Distort Benefits of Life-Saving Clean Air Protections

December 9, 2020
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5718,

(Washington, D.C. – December 9, 2020) The Trump administration today took a step that would make it harder for future administrations to protect Americans from dangerous air pollution, when it finalized a proposal that attacks clean air protections by imposing arbitrary new requirements on assessments of their benefits.

“This rule will distort EPA’s assessment of the benefits of Clean Air Act safeguards, making it harder to establish vital, life-saving protections against unhealthy air pollution,” said EDF senior attorney Ben Levitan. “The rule puts Americans’ health at risk for no good reason. The incoming Biden administration should immediately take steps to reverse this rule.”

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed the rule, with the Orwellian name “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process,” in June. The proposal laid out a plan to “cook the books” in order to overstate the costs and obscure the benefits of our nation’s clean air laws. It also contained inconsistent new procedures for implementing those laws, and incorporated elements of Wheeler’s dangerous Censored Science proposal to limit EPA’s use of important health and scientific studies when setting public health protections.

Today’s final rule sets arbitrary requirements for demonstrating the benefits of clean air protections, but does not set the same requirements for claims about the costs of protections skewing the results of agency analyses. It also imposes new regulatory requirements that overlook the benefits of clean air safeguards and threatens EPA’s ability to do its job – including setting health-protective standards for soot and smog, limiting industrial sources of hazardous air pollution like mercury and benzene, and safeguarding against chemical disasters.

Throughout the development of this rule, Administrator Wheeler ignored extensive evidence that the benefits of Clean Air Act protections are actually systematically undercounted – and still far outweigh the costs:

  • EPA’s most recent analysis projects that the benefits of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments will exceed the costs of compliance by a factor of 30 to 1.
  • The study identified benefits valued at $2 trillion in 2020 alone, including from the prevention of 230,000 unnecessary deaths.

EPA already has rigorous methods for assessing costs and benefits. Wheeler has not identified any flaws in those methods or provided any reason why his proposed rule would improve them. EPA’s own Science Advisory Board said the proposal’s key terminology was vague and undefined.

EDF and other health and environmental organizations filed detailed comments with EPA in August pointing out the proposal’s technical problems and fatal legal flaws. EDF also filed a community letter expressing the opposition of 15 public health, environmental justice, racial justice, and environmental organizations.

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