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Climate Hustle

Pruitt promised polluters EPA will value their profits over American lives

Posted on 23 April 2018 by dana1981

TIME magazine announced last week that Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is among their 100 most influential people of 2018. George W. Bush’s former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman delivered the scathing explanation:

If his actions continue in the same direction, during Pruitt’s term at the EPA the environment will be threatened instead of protected, and human health endangered instead of preserved, all with no long-term benefit to the economy.

As a perfect example of those actions, the Daily Caller recently reported that at a gathering at the fossil fuel-funded Heritage Institute, Pruitt announced that the EPA and federal government will soon end two important science-based practices in evaluating the costs and benefits of regulations.

Regulating pollutants has “co-benefits,” like saving lives

When the EPA regulates pollutants, the practice often yields what are called “co-benefits.” For example, limiting allowable mercury pollution can force dirty coal power plants to install pollution-control equipment or shut down. Since coal plants produce other pollutants like soot, the regulations not only reduce mercury levels, but also particulate matter in the air. The latter isn’t an intended consequence of the regulations, but creating cleaner air and healthier Americans are unintended “co-benefits” of limiting another pollutant.

In doing cost-benefit analyses, the EPA accounts for all direct benefits and indirect co-benefits of its regulations. Certain industry groups and conservative pundits don’t like that approach, because they care more about polluter profits than they do about clean air and healthy Americans. However, during the George W. Bush administration in 2003, the Office of Management and Budget issued a guidance saying that it’s important to consider co-benefits:

Your analysis should look beyond the direct benefits and direct costs of your rulemaking and consider any important ancillary benefits and countervailing risks. An ancillary benefit is a favorable impact of the rule that is typically unrelated or secondary to the statutory purpose of the rulemaking (e.g., reduced refinery emissions due to more stringent fuel economy standards for light trucks)…

Pruitt wants to disregard this Bush-era guidance and instead consider only the costs and benefits of regulating the “targeted pollutant” (mercury, in our example). They want to ignore the lives saved by also incidentally reducing particulate matter pollution. To be blunt, this makes no sense, unless your goal is to protect polluters at the expense of public and environmental health.

As a backup argument, industry groups argue that the EPA overestimates these co-benefits because particulate matter (specifically, PM2.5) isn’t harmful to human health below a certain threshold value. Not coincidentally, Pruitt’s EPA hired a scientist who has argued that American air is “a little too clean for optimum health.” However, EPA looked at the associated science and issued a memo in 2012 concluding,

Studies demonstrate an association between premature mortality and fine particle pollution at the lowest levels measured in the relevant studies, levels that are significantly below the [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] for fine particles. These studies have not observed a level at which premature mortality effects do not occur. The best scientific evidence, confirmed by independent, Congressionally-mandated expert panels, is that there is no threshold level of fine particle pollution below which health risk reductions are not achieved by reduced exposure.

The bottom line is that when considering all effects, the benefits of EPA pollutant regulations often far outweigh their costs. However, the American public sees the benefits in the form of cleaner air and water, better health, and avoided premature deaths, while industries bear the costs of complying with the regulations by reducing their pollution. Hence industry groups and their allies in the Pruitt EPA are trying to cook the books to favor profits over public health. It’s worth reflecting on the disparity between the president’s claims that EPA’s goal is to achieve “record clean Air & Water” and its apparent actual goal of maximizing polluter industry profits.

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job!

Climate costs get a similar treatment

At the Heartland Institute gathering, Pruitt also promised that the Trump administration will stop using the ‘social cost of carbon’ – an estimate of how much carbon pollution costs society via added climate damages – in crafting regulations. The Obama administration first started using the social cost of carbon in cost-benefit analyses of various government regulations. For example, when the Department of Energy considers stricter energy efficiency standards for appliances, it will account for the benefits of slowing climate change by reducing electricity consumption. Industry groups challenged that policy in court, but the Obama administration won.

Under Trump and Pruitt, the EPA has started engaging in bogus accounting to deflate the estimated social cost of carbon, and now Pruitt has promised they’ll stop using it altogether. It’s simply another way for the EPA to put industry profits above public health benefits.

Environmental groups are ready to take Pruitt to court

Pruitt hasn’t yet made good on these promises to the polluting industries, but if he does, environmental groups are confident they can beat him in court. David Doniger, senior strategic director of the National Resource Defense Council’s climate & clean energy program told me:

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Comments

Comments 1 to 4:

  1. Citi did a study of the externalized financial costs of business as usual with coal, oil and gas which is the policy of the Trump administration and in part why he brought someone like Pruitt in to kneecap the EPA.

    Energy Darwinism II

    The estimated externalized costs from a 1.5 C increase in global temperature is $20 Trillion by mid century.

    A 2.5 C increase is $44 Trillion.

    A 4.5 C increase is $72 Trillion.

    Looking at the work of James Hansen who feels that many projections of temperature increase are much too conservative, it's entirely possible that we could be seeing a 4.5 C increase in the timeframe covered by the Citi report.

    Even in financial terms fossil fuel business as usual as is being imposed under Trump is unsustainable.

    Pruitt's gutting of the EPA won't just be costing more people their lives, it will be hitting millions of people very hard in their investment portfolios.

    It's bad business as well as very bad governance.

    Trump has a long history of very poor business practices resulting in multiple bankruptcies, claims of fraud with his "University" and repeated lawsuits against him for non-payment to contractors and vendors.

    This appears to be a vast expansion of that kind of behavior.

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  2. Scott Pruitt is the wrong man for the job. One quick read of his qualifications, history, decisons, and the numerous scandals he has been involved in show this.

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  3. nigelj @2

    "leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda"

    This seems like more very dishonest branding on the part of some working for polluters and not for public safety.

    The EPA was created by Republican President Richard Nixon and had nothing to do with any sort of political activism. It was a response to some very serious pollution issues at the time.

    Why the EPA was created

    Now it has been agreed on a global scale not just by almost all the researchers involved in valid study of the climate but by almost every government in the world that climate change is a very serious issue that must be addresses as soon as possible to pervent very serious impacts.

    The US Supreme Court agreed with this as well in 2007 which means that all this time the EPA should have been strictly regulating carbon dioxide emissions in a way that is consistent with the evidence.

    Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency

    Not only has the EPA not had an "activist agenda" as Pruitt claims as a justification for damaging it as much as he can in the interests of polluters, for the last decade the EPA has been in violation of US law in regards to not regulating CO2 emissions.

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  4. Doug_C @3, yes all true, although taking a devils advocate position, you could argue theres nothing actually wrong with an activist agenda anyway in certain situations. Activism has it's place, especially with something as fundamental to our long term survival as the environment, and given the enormous influence of corporate lobby groups opposing environmental improvements. Activism balances this up nicely.

    There's nothing wrong with the EPA actively protecting the environment, and passionate about their cause, and this means things done.The head of the organisation should have some form of environmental qualification, or at least a science degree, so that he understands the issues and relates to staff. Pruit is a lawyer. No wonder morale is so low in the organisation.

    People need to keep things in perspective. Labelling something activist is an attempt to discredit something, without actually prviding real evidence of a problem. Its a nasty, small minded slur.

    There are plenty of other branches of government to scrutinise EPA decisions, and make sure they don't get carried away and over regulate. Obama managed this, and managed a good balance of environmentalism and economics, proven by the fact the economy and company profitability all did very well on the whole once things recovered from the financial crash. There was therefore  just no problem there with the EPA and specific environmental rules that needed fixing, although more should be done about climate change. If anything, the EPA need more regulatory powers, not less.

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