EPA Hampering Benefits Under Guise of Consistency and Transparency

Jul 30, 2020

by Claire Brantley

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a proposed rule entitled, “Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process.” The rule was presented as a tool to increase transparency, but in practice this rule harms benefits and scientific practices.

Clean Air Carolina and MAHA stand with the EPA’s stated mission to protect human health and the environment by utilizing the best available and defensible science as the foundation of sound policy. Unfortunately, the new proposed rule does not align with the EPA’s mission due to its resulting limitation of scientific practices and benefit-cost analyses. 

The process of codifying certain “best practices” limits scientific growth and the advancement of practices. Additionally, epidemiological studies are arbitrarily targeted by this rule change, even though they have been proven to be useful in protecting public health. 

This proposed rule would limit benefits by codifying “best practices” and targeting epidemiological studies in the name of transparency and consistency, all while harming scientific progress, method adaptability, and the inclusion of relevant scientific work in benefits cost analysis (BCA). 

Comments on this proposed rule were due Aug 3. You can read MAHA’s full comments below.

__________________

August 3, 2020

Leif Hockstad
Office of Air Policy and Program Support
Office of Air and Radiation
Environmental Protection Agency
Mail Code 6103A
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20460

Re: Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process, Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2020-00044

Dear Mr. Hockstad,

Medical Advocates for Healthy Air (MAHA), a network of more than 800 nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and other health professionals across North Carolina, is writing in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) request for comment on the Increasing Consistency and Transparency in Considering Benefits and Costs in the Clean Air Act Rulemaking Process, Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2020-00044.

Making policy decisions more consistent and transparent is an important goal, but it must be applied in a manner that respects the scientific framework and studies while in pursuit of credible and honest decisions. MAHA is a strong supporter of EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment by utilizing the best available and defensible science as the foundation of sound policy. 

This proposed rule does not align with EPA’s mission, nor the spirit and intent of the Clean Air Act. It instead arbitrarily limits the science that can be considered under the Clean Air Act as well as what scientific studies can be utilized to assess the benefits of regulations. Additional considerations for disregarding this proposed rule include: 

  1. It limits the use of epidemiology studies, such as foundational air quality studies.
  2. There is already a sufficient peer review process in place.
  3. “Best practices” change over time as science evolves or new science emerges, and so should not be codified.
  4. The proposed rule would only impact the calculation of the benefits but, not the calculations of the costs.
  5. During the COVID-19 pandemic is not the time to ask for feedback from experts on a new and unnecessary rule.

Epidemiological studies provide significant foundational evidence1 for many of EPA’s rule-makings. Foundational studies on particulate matter mortality, such as the Harvard Six Cities and the American Cancer Society studies, are notable instances where the EPA used evidence from epidemiological studies to set the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for particulate matter (PM). EPA relied on this body of research to help determine what level is scientifically healthy to the human body. Since then, these studies have been successfully replicated by many other research groups. 

Yet, this proposed rule would arbitrarily limit the use of epidemiological studies in Clean Air Act policymaking. It is unclear why epidemiological studies are targeted. If epidemiological studies are intentionally being limited, the full benefits of regulation will not be realized.

Limiting the scientific research being used in any rulemaking process is unwise. The scientific community already uses the peer review process to ensure sound science is published. Additionally, the EPA has independent advisory boards that regularly review the science used for policy-related purposes.4 The Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, and the Science Advisory Board, among others, were established to explicitly provide a diverse, independent scientific peer review of all the science considered in rule-makings so that the Administrator would have a process to receive regular reports on emerging and cutting edge scientific studies and corresponding policy options to consider in parallel to those recommended by staff. Limiting epidemiology studies is unnecessary and could cause serious adverse impacts on future policy-making and public health.

The proposed rule seeks comment on whether these practices for benefit-cost analysis (BCA) should be codified. This is unnecessary and would hamper future BCAs. Best practices for conducting BCAs change as science, data, and modeling improve. 

The EPA’s own scientists, policymakers, and analysts have used best practices since the enactment of the Clean Air Act without a need to codify them. This has allowed EPA to update its BCA practice as the field changes. Codifying the practice would inhibit this and potentially lead to inaccurate BCAs.5,6

All of the changes in the proposed rule affect the calculation of benefits, but none impact calculating the costs. The reason for this is vague and unclear. Any changes to calculating BCAs should be applied to both benefits and costs to ensure consistency and transparency as intended by the rule. This proposed rule does not “ensure that its analyses of regulatory decisions provided to the public continue to be rooted in sound, transparent and consistent approaches to evaluating benefits and costs” as it purports to do.

Furthermore, asking for feedback during the COVID-19 pandemic is overburdening public health professionals and epidemiology experts who would normally like to weigh in on these important issues. These scientific and health practitioners are currently trying to stop the COVID-19 pandemic and save American lives. At a minimum, the comment period should be extended by more than one week to allow additional time to review the proposed rule and provide useful feedback. 

If you have questions please do not hesitate to reach out to us at [email protected] or by phone at 984.244.0036. Thank you for giving your utmost consideration to these comments.

Sincerely,

Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky, MSPH
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Manager
Clean Air Carolina

Kimberly Price, PhD
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Advisory Board, Chair

Candace Cahoon, BS, RRT, RCP
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Advisory Board, Vice-Chair

Stephen Keener, MD, MPH
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Advisory Board, Past Chair

Lisa Feierstein , RN, BSN, MBA
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Advisory Board

Aseem Kaul, MD, MPH
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Advisory Board

Gregory Kearney, DrPH, MPH
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Advisory Board

Karen Oles, PharmD
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Advisory Board

Robert Parr, DO
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Advisory Board

Lawrence Raymond, MD, ScM
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air
Advisory Board

____

References

1: Wu X, Adv S, Wu X, et al. Evaluating the impact of long-term exposure to fine particulate matter on mortality among the elderly. Sci Adv. 2020;5692:1-13. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aba5692
2: Dockery D, Pope A, Xu X, et al. An association between air pollution and mortality in six U.S. cities. N Engl J Med. 1993;329(24):1754-1759.
3: Pope CA, Thun MJ, Namboodiri MM, et al. Particulate Air Pollution as a Predictor of Mortality in a Prospective Study of U.S. Adults. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1995;151(3_pt_1):669-674. doi:10.1164/ajrccm/151.3_Pt_1.669.
4: Berg J, Campbell P, Kiermer V, et al. Joint statement on EPA proposed rule and public availability of data. Science (80- ). 2018;360(May):5-6. doi:10.1126/science.aau0116
5: Farrow S, Toman M. Using Environmental Benefit-Cost Analysis to Improve Government Performance. Washington, D.C.; 1998. https://ageconsearch.umn.edu/record/10598/.
6: Atkinson G, Mourato S. Environmental Cost-Benefit Analysis. Annu Rev Environ Resour. 2008;33(1):317-344. doi:10.1146/annurev.environ.33.020107.112927

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