In a series of tweets on Thursday night, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt cheered his agency’s year-long effort to stall or repeal numerous regulations, arguing that it will save the American public $300 million in regulatory costs.
Pruitt’s tweet fails to mention two important things, however. First, the American public likely won’t see any of those savings, because those regulatory costs are shouldered by industry. And second, the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks might save industry money, but they will likely result in widespread environmental and public health costs, which almost certainly will be shouldered by the American public.
Take, for instance, the Clean Power Plan — an Obama administration regulation that attempted to place the first-ever limits on carbon emissions from power plants. The rule has been a major target of Pruitt since his days as Oklahoma attorney general and, as EPA administrator, he has overseen its repeal. But even the Trump administration’s own math admits that the CPP would have had significant public health benefits, preventing as many as 4,500 premature deaths per year by 2030.
Complying with the rule, however, would have cost the coal industry by forcing power plants to switch from carbon-intensive sources of fuel like coal to less-carbon intensive sources like wind and solar. By repealing the rule — and potentially issuing a much weaker replacement — the EPA effectively trades public health benefits for industry savings.
Under Pruitt, the EPA has also begun reconsidering rules that limit how much mercury power plants can emit. This rule, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS), was the culmination of more than two decades worth of work by the agency; in April, the Trump administration asked a federal court to delay arguments over the rule (which has been in place for two years and is currently being challenged a coalition of states and industry) while it considered its position. According to the EPA, the rule would prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks every year. But industry — especially the coal industry — has vocally opposed the rule, arguing that it imposes burdensome costs that lead to closures of coal-fired power plants (coal-fired power plants are by far the largest emitter of mercury into the air).
These are two rules where the EPA has already studied the measurable public health benefits of the regulation; there are countless other rules that have been rolled back, or put on pause, where exact figures don’t exist. In March, for instance, Pruitt rejected the recommendation of EPA scientists and decided to not issue a ban on chlorpyrifos, a widely-used insecticide that has been linked to brain damage. Along with brain damage, chlorpyrifos has been linked to a higher incidence of lung cancer in pesticide applicators who were regularly exposed to the chemical.
But the ban was vehemently opposed by the chemical industry, especially Dow Chemical — one of the primary manufacturers of chlorpyrifos. Andrew Liveris, Dow’s CEO, donated $1 million dollars to President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and met with Pruitt shortly before the administrator announced his decision not to ban the chemical.
In choosing not to ban the pesticide, Pruitt argued that it was important to bring “regulatory certainty” to agricultural producers that use the chemical. But critics have argued that more than regulatory certainty, Pruitt’s regulatory rollbacks illustrate how the agency has come to place the needs of industry over the EPA’s core mission of protecting public health and the environment. Throughout his first year as administrator, Pruitt has time and again argued that “regulators exist to give certainty to those that they regulate” — but that viewpoint suggests that Pruitt believes his job is to make things easier for industry rather than the American public.
“The only ‘certainty’ Scott Pruitt is providing Americans is that he is failing to protect their air, their water, or the health of their kids in his quest to do whatever the fossil fuel and chemical industries want,” John Coequyt, director of Sierra Club’s global climate policy, told ThinkProgress via email. “The damage that gutting vital air and water protections will do to our families and our health is incalculable.”
Environmental regulations place compliance costs on industry, but they also prevent those costs from being transferred to the American public in the form of increase illness, polluted air, and dirty water. Since the Clean Air Act first became law in 1970, it has created some $22 trillion in net economic benefits, from reductions in illness to improvements in the yield of some agricultural crops. If Pruitt is going to champion the regulatory savings of his actions, he should take responsibility for the loss of public health and environmental benefits, too.