After three years, researchers have finally published a study claiming to have debunked science the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used to justify imposing costly regulations on U.S. industries.
The study led by veteran statistician Stan Young found “little evidence for association between air quality and acute deaths” in California between 2000 and 2012.
“The daily death variability was mostly explained by time of year or weather variables; Neither PM2.5 nor ozone added appreciably to the prediction of daily deaths,” reads they study.
Young released his study three years ago, and finally got it peer-reviewed published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology on Tuesday. Young tried to get his research published in the journal PLOS One in July 2015, but the publication rejected the paper saying EPA settled the science on air pollution decades ago.
“The issue addressed was laid to rest in the mid 1990s by a large reanalysis report sponsored by [Health Effects Institute],” a PLOS One editor wrote in a rejection email to Young and his colleagues, according to the book “Scare Pollution.”
“EPA and other regulatory bodies have long since concluded these associations are causal so I don’t think there is much point in going over this again and again,” the editor wrote to Young. Young appealed the editor’s decision, but was again rejected by PLOS One in November 2015.
If his results hold, they present a huge challenge to EPA regulations. The results “call into question the widespread belief that association between air quality and acute deaths is causal/near-universal,” according to Young’s study.
For decades, EPA has relied on epidemiological studies to justify a causal relationship between air pollution levels and deaths and illnesses. EPA says regulations to reduce pollutants will save nearly 240,000 people a year.
EPA estimates Clean Air Act regulations will deliver $2 trillion in public health benefits by 2030, exceeding the cost of federal clean air regulations by a ratio of 30-to-1 at the high end.
Almost all of these benefits come from reducing fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground-level ozone, which EPA says can directly cause premature death. That means reducing these pollutants yield potentially big public health benefits.
EPA says “breathing in PM2.5 over the course of hours to days (short-term exposure) and months to years (long-term exposure) can cause serious public health effects that include premature death and adverse cardiovascular effects.”
“The evidence also links PM2.5 exposure to harmful respiratory effects,” according to EPA.
Many past studies linking air pollution to mortality compare annual or monthly air quality averages to deaths, while Young’s study makes use of daily weather and death data. Young and his colleagues compared daily weather measurements, air quality data and reported deaths over a twelve-year period.
“Our paper presents data and analysis saying there is no association of acute mortality with ozone or PM2.5 in California and that calls into question that ozone or PM2.5 CAUSE acute mortality,” reads Young’s study. The study was funded the National Black Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute.
The Obama administration often used benefits avoided from reducing PM 2.5 and ozone to make regulations look more beneficial than they would have otherwise been.
EPA’s Clean Power Plan to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants derived most of its public health benefits from reductions to PM 2.5 and ozone. Without them, the rule would have had to rely on “climate benefits” measured using a now defunct social cost of carbon metric.
Aside from the global warming rule, EPA also used co-benefits from reducing PM 2.5 and ozone to pump up a rule limiting mercury emissions from coal plants, or MATS rule. Nearly all the benefits of the MATS rule came from PM 2.5 reductions.
Without PM 2.5, the cost of reducing mercury from power plants would have exceeded the benefits by a ratio of 1,600-to-1.
If PM 2.5 and ozone aren’t associated with mortality, all those regulations have costs that outweigh the benefits.
“In summary, our empirical evidence, supported by literature and logic, is that current levels of air quality, ozone and PM2.5, are not associated with or causally related to acute deaths for California,” reads Young’s study.
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