Op-Ed Shines Light on Trump EPA's Efforts to Re-Rig Cost-Benefit Analysis for Polluters

by James Goodwin

July 02, 2019

Last night, CPR Member Scholar Amy Sinden and I published an op-ed in The Hill explaining the dangers of a new rulemaking recently launched by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler and former air office Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum. Through this rulemaking, Wheeler and Wehrum – both former industry lobbyists – will kick off the EPA's agency-wide effort to overhaul how it conducts cost-benefit analysis for its pending rules to ensure that this methodology remains heavily biased in favor polluters at the expense of people and our environment.

As the op-ed explains, cost-benefit analysis was always meant to provide industry with a powerful trump card in the rulemaking process. Industry expected its methodologies – while masquerading as objective and rational – would systematically favor weaker or no regulations. By and large, that held true for the nearly 40 years that cost-benefit analysis has ruled regulatory decision-making. But in the environmental policy context, two types of benefits have begun to threaten to unstack the deck that cost-benefit analysis offers to industry – those related to particulate matter and climate change. It turns out that addressing both these harms can be worth a lot of money, helping to justify clean air regulations, even when their primary purpose isn't to limit emissions of particulate matter or climate-disrupting greenhouse gases.

The Clean Air Act "benefits-busting" rule would change all that, providing the EPA with new tricks for burying or ignoring the benefits of addressing particulate matter and the climate crisis. In a recent CPR Rule Update, I explain what measures the benefits-busting rule will likely include to ensure that the EPA's Clean Air Act cost-benefit analysis remains rigged in favor of industry. The Trump EPA has already provided some hints with its egregious attempts to cook the cost-benefit analysis books to justify its extreme rollbacks of vital environmental and public health safeguards. Its proposal to disregard the co-benefits of a rule to limit mercury and other hazardous air pollution emissions from power plants provides an especially notable example.

If finalized, the Clean Air Act benefits-busting rule would make it easier for the Trump EPA to roll back existing rules. Significantly, it would also make it easier for industry to oppose any efforts by future administrations to institute stronger and more protective safeguards. This latter result will probably not go unnoticed by the now-departed Wehrum. The launch of this rule was among Wehrum's last official acts before he left EPA under an ethical cloud. If and when he returns to working as an industry lobbyist, he will find that, through the revolving door, he has handed himself a powerful new weapon to oppose sensible environmental and public health protections on behalf of his polluter clients. And that's how former Assistant Administrator Wehrum may very well have scored a big win for past-and-future polluter lobbyist Wehrum.

Top photo by the Natural Resources Defense Council, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Also from James Goodwin

James Goodwin, J.D., M.P.P., is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform. He joined CPR in May of 2008.

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