Steam billows from the PacifiCorp Hunter power plant, which burns an estimated 4.5 million tons of coal a year, iin Castle Dale. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to adopt a new method for projecting the future health risks of air pollution, one that experts said has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans. (Brandon Thibodeaux/The New York Times
c.2019 New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the future health risks of air pollution, a shift that would predict thousands of fewer deaths and would help justify the planned rollback of a key climate change measure, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.
The proposed change would dramatically reduce the 1,400 additional premature deaths per year that the EPA had initially forecast as a result of eliminating the old climate change regulation — the Clean Power Plan, which was former President Barack Obama’s signature climate change measure. It would also make it easier for the administration to defend its replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule.
It has been a constant struggle for the EPA to demonstrate, as it is normally expected to do, that society will see more benefits than costs from major regulatory changes. The new modeling method, which experts said has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound, would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules.
The proposed new modeling method is unusual because it relies on unfounded medical assumptions and discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed EPA methods for understanding the health hazards linked to the fine particulate matter produced by burning fossil fuels.
Fine particulate matter — the tiny, deadly particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream — is linked to heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease.
The five people familiar with the plan, who are all current or former EPA officials, said the new modeling method would be used in the agency’s analysis of the final version of the ACE rule, which is expected to be made public in June. William L. Wehrum, the EPA air quality chief, acknowledged that the new method would be included in the agency’s final analysis of the rule.
Wehrum said the new approaches would allow for public debate to move ahead and that any new methods would be subject to peer review if they became the agency’s primary tool for measuring health risks.
“This isn’t just something I’m cooking up here in my fifth-floor office in Washington,” Wehrum said.