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EPA’s planned new method for estimating air pollution deaths not ‘scientifically sound’

The Environmental Protection Agency is planning to adopt new modeling to project air pollution health risks, according to a new report. Experts are already criticizing the new method, which would “drastically lower” previously determined premature death estimates.

The new report comes from the New York Times, which talked to experts who say the proposed new method “has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound.”

An analysis by the Trump administration last year revealed its own proposed Affordable Clean Energy rule (ACE) — which would replace the Clean Power Plan and weaken regulations on coal plants — could lead to 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030, in addition to thousands of other medical cases involving respiratory issues. At the time, EPA officials said those numbers could be reduced.

This new form of modeling aims to do just that. As the Times report notes,

It is not uncommon for a presidential administration to use accounting changes to make its regulatory decisions look better than the rules of its predecessors. But the proposed new modeling is unusual because it discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed E.P.A. methods and relies on unfounded medical assumptions.

EPA air quality chief William L. Wehrum said the new method would indeed be a part of the the final ACE rule. Of the method, the Times summarizes:

The new methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. On paper, that would translate into far fewer deaths from heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease, even if air pollution increased.

It’s likely that the ACE rule will be formally introduced in June, and it may happen around the same time as the formal introduction of the SAFE Vehicles rule, a proposal to freeze fuel economy standards in the US.

It’s not as if this couldn’t have been foreseen. In March, EPA panel members publicly questioned established air pollution science, with drafted recommendations that emphasized an “uncertainty” between pollution and respiratory disease.

Bad Air

The American Lung Association’s recent State of the Air report attributed progress in clean American air to the Clean Air Act, which the association said must remain “intact and enforced,” with concerns that it won’t be.

Furthermore, the association called the Clean Power Plan “our nation’s best federal plan to limit carbon pollution from power plants.”

All of this comes at a time when a recent report published in CHEST Journal says air pollution “can harm acutely, usually manifested by respiratory or cardiac symptoms, as well as chronically, potentially affecting every organ in the body.”

The very first sentence in the introduction of that research conducted by a number of doctors: “Air pollution may be the greatest environmental risk to health in the world.” A March study showed air pollution to be a greater cause of premature death than smoking.

Electrek’s Take

What do you do if one method for judging air pollution risks shows “too many” premature deaths under your own proposed rule? You change the method — all for a fossil fuel that’s already being kept on life support. It’s as despicable as it is unsurprising. We’d say it’s a “new low,” but this EPA has long been trawling the ocean floor.

Just as states such as California are fighting back on the proposed SAFE Vehicles regulations, they — and many others — must also prepare to fight back on the so-called “Affordable Clean Energy” rule.

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Phil Dzikiy is an Editor/Writer with Electrek/9to5Mac. Tips: