New York Times: New EPA technique could limit estimated deaths counted from air pollution

Citing conversations with a handful of people familiar with the plans, the Times said the EPA’s new technique could change a 2018 estimate by the Trump administration that said there could be 1,400 premature deaths each year due to a new agency rule on pollution from coal plants.

The methodology, according to the paper, is notable “because it discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed E.P.A. methods and relies on unfounded medical assumptions.”

The agency’s new order, called the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, is intended to roll back an Obama-era rule in order to “slightly improve the efficiency of coal plants. It would also allow older coal plants to remain in operation longer and result in an increase of particulate matter.”

The Times noted that the estimate derived from the new technique would make it easier to defend the new Trump administration rule as it would “assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires.” The change would mean that “on paper,” a potential increase in air pollution could still mean there would be “far fewer deaths from heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease,” the Times said.

The five people who spoke to the Times, all of whom are current or former agency officials, said the new technique “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.” The inclusion of the new technique in the agency’s final analysis of the rule was also confirmed to the paper by William L. Wehrum, the EPA’s air quality chief.

Last fall, CNN reported that after then-acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler appointed five new members to the agency’s independent committee that provides advice to the EPA on national air quality standards, some scientists became concerned that the committee would not be able to properly advise the EPA on its policies and procedures regarding national air quality standards.

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