By Lisa Friedman
© The New York Times Co.
WASHINGTON » The Biden administration on Thursday moved to repeal a Trump-era regulation that it said weakened the government’s ability to curb air pollution that threatens public health and is driving climate change.
Critics said the regulation distorted the costs of reducing air pollution while diminishing the associated benefits. It is one of several Trump administration policies that have been reversed by Michael S. Regan since he became the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in March.
Finalized at the end of the Trump administration, the so-called cost-benefit rule was designed to change how the EPA calculated the economic costs and benefits of new clean-air and climate- change rules. Agency economists would have been required to calculate the public health benefits that stem directly from a new regulation and separately the value of ancillary benefits, or “co-benefits” — such as the reduction of pollutants not directly governed by the regulation. Direct benefits and “co-benefits” would have to be presented as separate categories.
Experts said that requirement appeared designed to give industries a way to legally block the EPA over future air pollution rules. It also would have allowed the EPA to avoid putting a price tag on certain health benefits if the scientific evidence was deemed limited.
“Revoking this unnecessary and misguided rule is proof positive of this administration’s commitment to science,” Regan said in a statement.
The policy had been long sought by the fossil fuel industry, which argued for years that the federal government used unfair economic formulas that resulted in burdensome pollution regulations.
When Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump’s second EPA administrator, finalized the policy last year, he said it would promote transparency. But he also acknowledged it was aimed at preventing future administrations from imposing restrictions on toxic mercury pollution from power plants, as the Obama administration did.
The cost to industry of complying with the mercury regulation was more than $9 billion. The Obama administration justified the expense by tallying not just the benefits of reducing mercury — which would yield about $6 million annually in health care savings — but also the benefits of reducing sulfur dioxide, fine particulate matter and other pollutants that were cut by the equipment installed by the power plants.
By including these cobenefits — such as avoided hospitalizations, asthma attacks and other health problems — the total benefits reached $80 billion over five years. Wheeler at the time called that tabulation “dishonest.”
In announcing the repeal, the EPA said the Trump administration policy would have “limited EPA’s ability to use the best available science” in developing clean air regulations, and said that would be “inconsistent with economic best practices.”