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Scientists Said Air Pollution Would Kill Thousands, So Trump's EPA Just Changed The Math

The White House reportedly pressured the agency to downplay the risk of premature air pollution deaths.

by David Gilbert
May 21 2019, 1:00pm

The White House was not happy with a report that warned his new energy policy would cause an additional 1,400 premature deaths, so it instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to change the math. And, according to a report from the New York Times, the EPA complied.

The Times reports that the EPA is planning to introduce a new way of calculating the "future health risks of air pollution" in order to push through Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy rule, after the initial analysis was unpalatable.

The new calculus will make it appear that the number of additional deaths will be significantly less than 1,400, even though there has been no change to the proposed legislation. The method has not been peer-reviewed is not scientifically sound, sources inside the EPA told the Times.

The lower figure will, however, make it much easier to repeal the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and replace it with the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Affordable Clean Energy rule determines how the EPA regulates the microscopic pieces of soot that can penetrate your lungs and enter your bloodstream. These tiny particles, released by burning fossil fuels, can cause and exacerbate heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory diseases such as asthma.
  • Despite mounting scientific evidence of the many dangers of burning fossil fuels, the Trump administration has rolled back regulations designed to transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels and towards natural gas and renewable energy. Trump has blasted the purported “war on coal,” and his Affordable Clean Energy rule promises to remove red tape in order to create more jobs in the coal industry — while also removing regulations designed to protect the environment.
  • Last year, an EPA analysis revealed that Trump’s proposed policy of keeping older coal-burning power plants operational for longer would lead to the premature deaths of 1,400 people a year. It would also cause up to 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems, a rise in bronchitis, and tens of thousands of missed school days.
  • After the report was published, the EPA suddenly disbanded the Particulate Matter Review Panel, the 20-person subcommittee that produced the report and that was responsible for helping the agency decide how much air pollution is safe for Americans to breathe. That responsibility now falls on a seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which is led by Tony Cox, a statistician who has been funded by the fossil fuel industry.
  • At a hearing in March, several members of that group, including Cox, said they did not agree that breathing air polluted with soot can lead to an early death.

The EPA denies it has made a final decision to use the new methodology and says if it does make that choice, it will be peer-reviewed first. “To be clear, there is no new methodology related to particulate matter included in the cost-benefit analysis accompanying the final Affordable Clean Energy rule,” the agency said in a statement to The Hill.

Cover: Downtown Los Angeles is shrouded in early morning coastal fog on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. Southern California is having its smoggiest summer in nearly a decade and hospitals report an increase of people with breathing problems. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

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