During a virtual event on Wednesday, December 9 hosted by the Heritage Foundation — a conservative free market think tank backed by polluters like the petrochemical Koch empire — the outgoing head of the Environmental Protection Agency (and former coal lobbyist) Andrew Wheeler announced the finalization of a new rule that critics say is a gift to polluting industries opposed to federal regulations.
The rule is specifically about an accounting process used in rulemaking called a cost-benefit analysis. According to EPA’s announcement, the rule is supposed to increase consistency and transparency when EPA develops regulations under the Clean Air Act. But leading environmental organizations and a former EPA official say the new rule is redundant and dangerous, as it would allow polluters to tie up any new EPA regulations in legal challenges based on claiming the cost-benefit analysis for a given regulation is inadequate.
“There is no reason in the world for this regulation. EPA is already doing economic analyses of costs and benefits in the rules that EPA issues. The only difference here is it’s requiring it by regulation and therefore presents something you can sue EPA for,” Roy Gamse, former Director of Economic Analysis and Deputy Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Planning and Evaluation, told DeSmog.
“It allows for someone opposed to what EPA is doing to come in on purely procedural grounds and say you did not comply with your regulations under the Clean Air Act,” he added. “You did not provide a benefit-cost analysis to my satisfaction of this regulation. That allows them to delay or block the rule while they litigate whether the procedural steps that have been taken are adequate. And that’s the nefarious aspect of this.”
According to Gamse, the EPA already has its own internal guidance on how to do economic analyses of regulations. This guidance has been around for decades, and the Office of Management and Budget also requires federal agencies to do an accounting for costs and benefits when they issue regulations. The new rule issued today by Administrator Wheeler is “basically codifying what EPA has been doing anyway,” Gamse said.
Screen shot of EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaking during a webinar hosted by the Heritage Foundation on Dec. 9.
“Designed to Reward Polluters”
Environmental groups slammed Wheeler’s move to finalize this rule — saying it is designed to benefit polluters at the expense of Americans’ health — and urged the incoming Biden administration to immediately scrap it.
“This rule will distort EPA’s assessment of the benefits of Clean Air Act safeguards, making it harder to establish vital, life-saving protections against unhealthy air pollution. The rule puts Americans’ health at risk for no good reason. The incoming Biden administration should immediately take steps to reverse this rule,” Ben Levitan, senior attorney with Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement.
“This new rule has no scientific, public health, economic or legal justification, and is a sharp break with past precedent. It’s aimed purely at rigging the rulemaking process in favor of polluters,” said Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“This rule is designed to reward polluters and push the costs onto the most vulnerable people — prioritizing short-term profits over human lives,” she added. “Next year when the Biden administration takes charge, they must reverse this bad-faith rule and restore the EPA’s ability to do its job to protect the health of communities around the nation.”
Fossil Fuel Lobby Groups Welcome Rule
Wheeler officially announced the new policy during a webinar on Wednesday organized by the Heritage Foundation — the think tank has played an influential role during the Trump administration advocating for dismantling environmental regulations and styming clean energy. And one indication that this rule is a boon to polluters is the positive reaction it’s received from fossil fuel industry supporters and trade associations.
The American Petroleum Institute — the largest lobby group for the U.S. oil and gas industry — also praised the rule. “This policy will help protect public health and the environment cost-effectively as we continue to reduce emissions and invest in innovative technologies while delivering affordable, reliable energy,” API Senior Vice President of Policy, Economics and Regulatory Affairs Frank Macchiarola said in a statement.
But environmental advocates refuted this claim that the new rule will protect public health and the environment.
“This is an egregious 11th-hour attempt to handcuff the incoming administration and undercut the benefits of clean air — in the worst days of a global health crisis,” said Emily Davis, senior attorney in the Climate & Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“With this deeply flawed rule, Andrew Wheeler and the Trump Administration are trying to force future EPA Administrators to tip the scales in favor of polluters, not public health,” Al Armendariz, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign Senior Director of Federal Campaigns, said in a statement. “It says that the EPA doesn’t care about doing thorough work to make sure as many people as possible are protected from dirty air. It says Andrew Wheeler never stopped working for his coal company clients ever after he took an oath to protect us from harmful pollution. And, it says why the American people rejected Wheeler and the Trump Administration last month.”
Main Image: Coal-fired power plant in central Wyoming. Credit: Greg Goebel via Flickr, CC BY–SA 2.0