Public Health Rollbacks Are Back at the EPA

Jan 28, 2020

by Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky

Over the past couple of years, the EPA has proposed rules that would harm human health, exacerbate climate change, and worsen air pollution, all in direct contradiction to their mission. Thanks to the hard work of concerned citizens, including MAHA, many of these were never implemented. However, three of the proposed rule changes are under consideration again (Transparency, SAFE Vehicles, and Mercury and Air Toxics Standard), along with a brand new effort to undermine NEPA.

Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science

In 2018, MAHA submitted comments in opposition to the proposed ‘Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.’ While transparency is a commendable goal in the development of any policy, it must be applied in a manner that both respects individual privacy rights and pursues credible and honest decisions. The proposed rule change would undermine these goals.

In fact, EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), a panel of experts that reviews the agency’s scientific methods (and which includes many scientists selected by the Trump Administration), found that “key considerations…have been omitted…or presented without analysis, and certain key terms and implementation issues have not been adequately defined or described.” In general, this proposal would allow EPA officials to avoid using the best available science as their foundation for sound policymaking. This is in direct conflict to the EPA’s mission and ability to protect public health.

Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule

The Trump Administration is also trying to weaken the Obama-era Clean Car Standards through the proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule. In April 2019, MAHA spoke at a press conference in opposition to SAFE and the effort to roll back fuel efficiency standards. In North Carolina, cars and trucks are among the largest contributors to particulate matter and ozone air pollution, both of which have been shown to worsen numerous health issues including heart disease, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases. Transportation is also the leading cause of carbon pollution in the United States.

EPA claims the proposed SAFE vehicles rule would save lives, but its own SAB states there are several weaknesses that together “lead to implausible results” that are counter to what the proposed rule claims. Instead of being “safer” the proposed rule would lead to significantly more premature deaths from air pollution and climate change.

The proposed SAFE vehicles rule would result in more premature deaths from air pollution and climate change.
Mercury and Air Toxics Standard Rule (MATS)

Clean Air Carolina and MAHA, along with several other organizations, also submitted comments in opposition to the proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) rule in April 2019. If implemented, this rule would increase peoples’ exposure to toxic air pollutants emitted by power plants, including mercury, selenium, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen fluoride emissions. These pollutants have been shown to cause severe health impacts to the surrounding community, while rolling back protections on these toxins does not increase local jobs. This proposed rule would seriously harm public health and exacerbate existing environmental justice problems.

Rolling back emissions standards on power plants will cause severe health impacts to surrounding communities.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, requires environmental reviews for big proposed projects like highways or pipelines, as well as for significant industrial discharges into our air and water. On January 10, the EPA proposed sweeping changes to this foundational pillar of America’s environmental legislation. In general, the changes would limit what projects NEPA will apply to, what impacts need be considered and disclosed, and how the public can participate in the permitting process. This would favor industry and cause undue harm to already vulnerable populations.

Combined Effect

While each of these proposed rules is individually harmful, together they are a disaster. These potential rule changes would cause excessive damage to our health and our environment, and put us a dire path toward catastrophic climate health impacts. Clean Air Carolina will continue to fight these dangerous rollbacks through MAHA and our other programming and will keep our members updated on their progress.