The EPA’s sweeping plan to tackle global warming is set to be published in the Federal Register by the end of the month, but critics are arguing the EPA’s Clean Power Plan is justified using “Volkswagen accounting.”
In a recent Senate hearing, Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso asked a top EPA official if the agency was fudging the numbers to make its regulations look like they’ll have a way more beneficial impact on public health.
“I asked if EPA was double counting health benefits, because it sure seems that way to me,” Barrasso said to Janet McCabe, who heads the EPA’s air office.
Barrasso and other Republicans have opposed the recently finalized Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 32 percent by 2030. The Plan would force the closure of hundreds of coal-fired generators around the country and stifle coal production — Wyoming is the largest coal-producing state thanks to the Powder River Basin.
The EPA says its Clean Power Plan will cost $8.4 billion per year in 2030 and yield public health and climate benefits of $34 billion to $54 billion per year — about $14 billion to $34 billion come from health benefits from reducing air pollutants having nothing to do with global warming.
A sizeable amount of public health benefits also come from reducing particulate matter, or PM2.5. The EPA claims reducing PM2.5 will avert “1,500 to 3,600 premature deaths … 90,000 asthma attacks in children … 1,700 heart attacks … 1,700 hospital admissions” and “300,000 missed school and work days.”
But here’s the rub, Barrasso and other have argued that EPA is double-counting the benefits of reducing PM2.5 that’s already been reduced (and accounted for) by other clean air regulations.
“So my point was, you can only reduce the dust once and accrue the health benefits of that reduction once,” he added. “Not over and over again to justify different rules.”
McCabe told Barrasso there was no double-counting going on, but the senator persisted and argued that “when you take a look at the EPA’s own documents” they state the agency is “counting co-benefits of reducing the same [particulate matter] in other rules before 111(d) rule for existing power plants was even released.”
Indeed, the EPA’s own draft regulatory impact analysis (RIA) for the Clean Power Plan states that “it is possible that some costs and benefits estimated in this RIA may account for the same air quality improvements as estimated in the illustrative [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] RIAs.”
“The same air quality improvements, that’s what the EPA is saying, the same air quality improvements for previous regulatory impact analyses are being counted again,” Barrasso said. “To me that means double counting.”
“To me, this sounds like Volkswagen accounting and I think government ought to be held to a much better standard than what we’re seeing coming from this agency and this administration,” he added.
The EPA, however, has remained adamant that it’s not double-counting the benefits of reducing particulate matter.
“EPA is not double counting the benefits of reducing ozone and PM2.5 in the Clean Power Plan,” an agency spokeswoman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “When EPA estimates the benefits for rules like the CPP, EPA includes other rules such as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in the baseline.”
“This means the costs and benefits of other rules are already accounted for when we estimate the costs and benefits of the rule being proposed or finalized,” she added. “So, the estimated CPP benefits are the incremental benefits beyond those for any other rules already on the books.”
But Barrasso is not the first to argue the EPA is double-counting the health benefits of reducing air pollution in its regulations.
A recent report published by the conservative Federalist Society argues that since PM2.5 and ozone are already regulated, “whenever EPA counts PM2.5 or ozone reductions in its cost-benefit analysis for other rules, it is double-counting reductions already mandated.”
“This is double-counting, plain and simple,” argues attorney C. Boyden Gray, the report’s author.
“EPA regularly flouts this basic principle of sound regulation by ignoring the PM2.5 and ozone reductions it has already mandated, and counting those reductions again as benefits in new rules,” Gray argues. “The same ton of pollutant thus serves to justify multiple rules, even though the pollution can only be prevented once.”
The Clean Power Plan, however, is not the first EPA regulation to be criticized for double-counting the benefits of air pollution reductions. The EPA’s mercury rule for power plants also came under fire for allegedly fudging the numbers.
A 2012 study by the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute argued that EPA was double-counting PM2.5 reductions in its Mercury Air Toxics Standards, which was recently struck down by the Supreme Court. The study’s authors argue that PM2.5 is already regulated to the safest possible levels, thus can’t be counted towards public health benefits in other EPA rules.
“These putative co-benefits are not credible,” wrote CEI’s Marlo Lewis, William Yeatman and David Bier. “PM2.5 is already regulated under the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards program to levels ‘requisite to protect public health’ with ‘an adequate margin of safety.’”
“Almost all of the [MATS] Rule’s ‘co-benefits’ occur at areas already in compliance with the NAAQS health standard for PM 2.5,” the authors argued.
Former Sen. John Kyl, an Arizona Republican, also criticized the EPA over double-counting PM2.5 reduction benefits in its MATS rule. In 2012, Kyl took to the Senate floor to lambast the EPA for double-counting the benefits of reducing particulates.
“Double-counting the benefits from reducing particulate matter as a… benefit is, at best, misleading,” Kyl said “Indeed, if 99 percent of the quantified health benefits cited in the rule are not due to reductions in [hazardous air pollutants], can we really call the [MATS] rule ‘appropriate and necessary?’”
“The agency already regulates particulate matter emissions under the Clean Air Act, and it has been doing so for 15 years,” Kyl said.
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