Pruitt tells climate deniers he’ll stop counting value of lives saved for new rules

Scott Pruitt plans to stop tallying the co-benefits of cutting pollution.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. CREDIT: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. CREDIT: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

By Philip Newell

Scott Pruitt, still clinging to the helm of President Trump’s EPA, met with allies at the Heritage Foundation Wednesday for what one attendee described as a “deniers’ convention,” according to E&E News. Pruitt told attendees that he is planning to stop counting the co-benefits of environmental protections, The Daily Caller reported.

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If Pruitt hangs on to his job long enough to implement the proposal — and it survives inevitable legal challenges — it could be prove critical to his efforts to discredit the science underpinning numerous environmental protections.

In doing cost-benefit analyses of new rules, experts account for auxiliary benefits of those rules. For example, the goal of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan — a target for Pruitt — is to reduce heat-trapping carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. But, in prompting utilities to switch away from coal to cleaner energy sources like wind and solar, the measure would also reduce emissions of particular matter, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants, saving thousands of lives. These saved lives are counted as co-benefits.

Federal agencies must assign a monetary value to a human life when performing cost-benefit analyses. That valuation varies slightly from agency to agency, but the rough consensus is that an American life is worth a little more than $9 million. That is significant when considering a new rule’s impact on industry. The Clean Power Plan, for example, would cost the coal sector billions of dollars, but it would save the country billions more by guarding public health.

Under Pruitt’s proposal, the EPA wouldn’t deny that the Clean Power Plan could save around 4,500 lives each year — a fact it currently acknowledges. Rather, when tallying up the benefits of reducing pollution, those lives simply would not count. In short, the man charged with protecting Americans’ health believes that, when performing a cost-benefit analysis, the EPA should not consider the value of saving American lives.

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The proposal comes on the heels of Pruitt’s plans to prevent the agency from using certain scientific research in issuing new rules. Pruitt’s efforts to restrict the EPA’s use of science draw on plans championed by conservative commentator Steve Milloy, who attended Wednesday’s meeting at the Heritage Foundation. Milloy has close ties to the fossil fuel and tobacco industries.

In recent weeks, Pruitt has come under attack for several potential ethics violations. This week’s announcement could be intended to shore up support among conservative allies, who will pressure Trump not to fire the embattled EPA Chief. Pruitt appears eager to make friends with co-benefits.

Phil Newell writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.