The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just proposed a rule that would, by its own admission, result in more Americans getting sick and dying. And the whole reason we know that is because of landmark public health studies the Trump administration is trying to limit access to.
Buried deep down on page 172, Table 4-8 in the regulatory impact analysis, an EPA shows how the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule could lead to 1,400 more premature deaths annually by 2030 than the Obama-era Clean Power Plan it would replace. Dig into some of the other tables, and you’ll see similarly uncomfortable numbers about a plan ostensibly designed to curtail coal-fired power plant pollution. There could be up to 96,000 more cases of asthma, 140,000 more missed days of school, and another 48,000 missed work days under just one of the scenarios analysed.
Other scenarios the EPA played out show varying degrees of adverse health effects compared to the Clean Power Plan.
“They’re really putting people’s lives in danger,” Mustafa Santiago Ali, a senior vice president at the Hip Hop Caucus and former EPA advisor on environmental justice, told Earther. “That’s why that transparency and access to information is so important.”
And yet access to that information in the form of landmark public health studies could go by the wayside due to another proposed rule that could drastically curtail the science the EPA can use in its cost-benefit analyses. The Trump administration’s so-called science “transparency” rule could put these studies off limits to the EPA because they contain unpublished data.
That data includes sensitive public health records that are kept unpublished to protect people’s privacy.
“These studies are core quantitative science to understand the quantitative relationship between breathing in pollution and feeling bad health effects,” Vijay Limaye, a science fellow at the Natural Resources Defence Council, told Earther.
Many scientists fear that ignoring these studies opens to the door to others with less rigorous methods and privacy protections. With the EPA currently run by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, and staffed up by other industry-friendly types, it’s not hard to imagine the end result being a pipeline of industry-backed studies leading to industry-friendly policies at the expense of public health, particularly for people of colour who disproportionately live near coal power plants and in fenceline communities.
The EPA is already barely paying lip service to those communities. The agency didn’t perform an environmental justice analysis of the Affordable Clean Energy rule proposal, though it claims it will do so for the final rule. It justifies the rule by saying it is “unlikely to have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority populations, low-income populations and/or indigenous peoples.”
A few sentences later, it says the emissions reductions from the Clean Power Plan it’s replacing would have provided benefits directly to minority and low-income communities and the proposal will not achieve the same benefits.
By not doing an environmental justice analysis up front with this proposal, we’re left to guess at what the impacts will be on vulnerable communities. Removing the best science from decision making under the guise of transparency only makes that situation worse.