Former member of Trump’s EPA transition team suggests air pollution doesn’t kill people

4.2 million people died prematurely from air pollution in 2015.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File
CREDIT: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File

During a panel on climate change and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday, Steven Milloy, a member of President Donald Trump’s EPA transition team and a former lobbyist for the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, argued that the EPA’s science on air pollution and public health has been manipulated to overstate the dangers of air pollution — a position that is in direct conflict with the weight of scientific evidence.

Responding to a question about whether the U.S. government needs to depend more on outside scientific research, conducted independent of government agencies, Milloy told an anecdote about the EPA’s air pollution research in the 1980s.

“Twenty years ago, EPA’s independent science advisory board disagreed with the agency and said ‘EPA, you’re wrong, air pollution doesn’t kill anybody,’” Milloy said. “EPA didn’t like that answer, so they replaced their independent science advisory board with a group of science advisers that were far less independent — as a matter of fact, 90 percent of the scientists were EPA contractors and grantees receiving 300 million dollars worth of grants, and all of the sudden, these people validate and rubber stamp the EPA’s conclusion that air pollution kills people.”

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Milloy then argued that the EPA should be prevented from conducting science altogether, because it was unreasonable to expect that an agency in charge of regulation would be able to produce independent science on matters pertaining the environment.

Earlier in the panel, Milloy also called for the reversal of the EPA’s landmark 2009 endangerment finding, which found that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant dangerous to public health. If the EPA’s endangerment finding were to be reversed, it would essentially relieve the Trump administration of any responsibility to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.

This is hardly the first time Milloy has cast doubt on the mainstream consensus that air pollution can lead to premature death in vulnerable populations. On his website, JunkScience.com, Milloy has written numerous articles attempting to debunk the links between air pollution and public health issues, from premature births to premature deaths. Milloy also literally wrote the book on why air pollution is not actually dangerous to public health, arguing that it is instead a pretense used by the EPA to impose business-killing regulations on industry.

Mountains of scientific evidence contradict Milloy’s claims, though since he argues that scientific evidence has been corrupted by environmentalists to support EPA’s regulations, that evidence likely means little to Milloy.

The 2017 State of Global Air Report found that air pollution — in particular, small-particle pollution known as PM 2.5 (caused by particles that are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, small enough to reach deep into the lungs and cross the blood-brain barrier) is responsible for 4.2 million deaths worldwide each year. The Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institutes of Health, the American Lung Association, and the United Nations all link air pollution to increased risk of asthma, heart disease, and stroke. In 2013, the WHO even concluded that air pollution could be categorized as a human carcinogen.

Milloy’s claims about air pollution may be far removed from mainstream scientific research — but they should not be disregarded, because now that Trump is president, people like Milloy will have the opportunity to shape policies enacted by the EPA and other agencies.

Scott Pruitt, the new EPA administrator, has similarly questioned the EPA’s science on air pollution and public health, arguing in a letter to the EPA in 2011 that the agency had been grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution from natural gas wells. An investigation by the New York Times later revealed that letter was drafted by Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s largest fossil fuel companies, and copied onto Pruitt’s attorney general letterhead. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt also challenged the EPA’s regulations on ozone and mercury pollution. According to the American Lung Association, ozone is one of the most widespread and dangerous air pollutants in the United States.