CPR Scholars and Staff Back EPA's Plan to Eliminate Trump 'Benefits-Busting' Rule

James Goodwin

June 9, 2021

In addition to cleaning up our environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must also clean up the mess the Trump administration left behind.

The Biden EPA recently took an important step in this direction by finalizing its plan to rescind a Trump-era rule that would drastically overhaul how it analyzes the rules it develops to implement the Clean Air Act. If implemented, Trump's "benefits-busting" rule would have sabotaged the effective and timely implementation of this popular and essential law, which protects the public from dangerous pollution that worsens asthma and causes other diseases. The rescission is slated to take effect next week.

On June 9, the EPA held a public hearing to gather feedback on rescinding the rule, which CPR has been tracking for several years. CPR Member Scholars Rebecca Bratspies and Amy Sinden joined me in testifying in support.

A New and Better Approach

In her testimony, Sinden highlighted the fundamental practical problems that characterize the pro-polluter form of cost-benefit analysis that the rule sought to codify. In particular, she noted the systematic lack of data on environmental and public health benefits that the EPA would need in order to perform even a passable analysis under the Trump rule. This would render impossible its goal of identifying "net benefits" with any semblance of accuracy.

Bratspies used her testimony to highlight how the rule would exacerbate environmental injustice. As she noted, historically marginalized communities — particularly people of color and the working poor — face a disproportionate burden from the very air pollutants that the rule pretends do not exist. The EPA's regulatory analysis already fails to capture the harms these pollutants cause for such communities; the Trump-era rule would have made that bad situation worse — and judicially enforceable.

In my testimony, I joined Sinden and Bratspies in calling on the EPA to use this exercise as a basis for overhauling its regulatory analysis procedures in a way that promotes the agency's public health and environmental protection mandates.

Even before Donald Trump came on the political scene, the EPA's cost-benefit analysis procedures operated as a barrier to effective safeguards, and failed in particular to account for the distributional and cumulative impacts of air pollution on marginalized communities.

To fulfill the Biden administration's bold environmental and social justice agendas, the EPA must do more than restore the pre-Trump status quo. To tackle the climate crisis and achieve its vision of a more environmentally just America, the Biden EPA must build a new and better approach for how it assesses the impacts of its rules.

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