The number one goal of the Presidential EPA Transition Team was to restore the integrity of the scientific process. Over the last two decades the EPA has moved away from using science to determine safe air and water quality standards to using manipulated science to justify regulations that met political goals. Peer review became pal review by scientists receiving EPA grants, and often by peers affiliated with the researchers they are reviewing. Key experimental data has been hidden. President Trump’s recent Executive Order starts the process of restoring integrity by restoring unbiased peer review, and requiring public access for science studies and their underlying data.
The most egregious example of using junk science is the last administrations “War on Coal”, established as a campaign promise. Unable to pass a national tax on carbon dioxide emissions with his own party’s legislative super majority, President Obama wrote an executive order to the EPA to create a regulation that would force states to adopt a carbon tax. The EPA found they couldn’t do enough at the power plant level to meet their goal. So, they used an obscure regulation to take over managing the entire electric grid with the Clean Power Plan. They also ignored federal rules and calculated $30 billion in benefits when following the calculation rules yielded only $0.5 billion in benefits. Fortunately the Supreme Court put a stay on implementation, and President Trump has ordered a review of the rule, and it will likely be overturned. The President also requires cost/benefit calculation rules be followed.
Unable to close coal-fired power plants with existing regulations the EPA set out to create new regulations to do so. However, not even the EPA can write a regulation without at least a fig leaf of cover for scientific justification, and a positive cost/benefit analysis. A rule to limit mercury emissions that wound up closing hundreds of older, smaller coal-fired power plants showed only a $6 million dollar benefit compared to $9 billion in implementation cost. No problem. The expensive filtration systems needed to remove mercury would also remove fine particle pollution as a by-product. The EPA merely included the exaggerated health benefits from lowered fine particle pollution to justify the mercury rule.
Those exaggerated health benefits are a good example of bad science. The Harvard Six Cities Study on mortality from exposure to fine particulate matter is used to support the health benefits. We have a rigorously determined air quality standard that says you can be exposed to up to 12 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particles all the time without injury, and certainly not death. The Harvard study claims premature deaths occur from any exposure down to zero ignoring the standard. No one gets to see the data or review its accuracy. The Scientific Advisory Board tasked with reviewing the study is packed with EPA grantees and even reviewers from Harvard, and also never saw the supporting data. Meanwhile human exposure studies, and real world exposure at levels way above the standard don’t confirm the Harvard results.
The EPA has used $380 billion in claimed health benefits from reducing fine particle exposure below the air quality standards to justify almost every major regulation of the last decade. These include the new ozone standards, the cross state air pollution standards, and the carbon dioxide endangerment finding. Part of the reason the EPA got away with using the Harvard study is the issue is complex and hard to understand without a lot of study. If you want a detailed explanation of the problems with this study read the just published book “Scare Pollution” by Steve Milloy.
There are those who are claiming President Trump has started a war on science. He is waging war, but it is against the use of junk science!
David T. Stevenson, CRI Director
Member Trump Administration EPA Transition Team