Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Labels Trump A ‘Co-Conspirator’ In Air Pollution Deaths That Haven’t (And May Not) Happened

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is blaming President Donald Trump for projected air pollution deaths
  • He based this claim on a flimsy New York Times article that takes EPA figures out of context
  • Inslee’s own poor forest management probably contributed to Washington’s poor air quality

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee threatened to sue the Trump administration for rolling back Obama-era regulations on coal plants, going so far as to label President Donald Trump as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in air pollution deaths that haven’t, and may not, happen.

“Even under the rosiest assumptions by his own agencies, would conclude that his would cause the premature death of 1,400 people a year, every year,” Inslee, a Democrat, said at a press conference Wednesday. “That’s the population of Kittitas, Washington, suffering premature death every year.”

“I think it is fair to say that Donald Trump is an unindicted co-conspirator in the premature death of 1,400 people every year if this misbegotten plan went into place,” Inslee said. “We find this unacceptable.”

Inslee is riding a wave of liberal criticism of the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule popularized by The New York Times — keeping coal plants open longer would result in 1,400 more deaths from air pollution every year.

It’s also not true EPA’s “rosiest assumptions” predict 1,400 premature deaths a year from fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. It’s actually the upper range of estimated PM2.5-induced deaths based on a 2012 study — only one of a range of estimates based on different assumptions.

The Times’ report, though, only presented one upper estimate of future air pollution deaths, not giving readers the full context of EPA’s figures. The Times’ reported figure is also based on public health modeling that’s come under increased scrutiny in recent years.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to put ACE in place of the Clean Power Plan, which was imposed by the Obama administration in 2015. The Clean Power Plan never went into effect, however, because the U.S. Supreme Court blocked its implementation in early 2016. (RELATED: NYT Isn’t Giving All The Facts In Its Latest Hit Piece Against Trump’s EPA)

EPA’s regulatory analysis showed billions of dollars would be saved, but it also gave a range of public health costs, including premature deaths in 2030 from coal plant pollution. Estimates of premature deaths, however, are based on two studies for which the underlying data was never made public, which Republicans have labeled “secret science.”

Estimates of premature deaths from air pollution are also just that, estimates based on epidemiological studies looking for strong statistical relationships between PM2.5 levels and reported deaths. EPA says PM2.5 can cause lung disease and premature death, which is certainly what most studies claim, but new research has called into question that relationship.

EPA is also looking 15 years into the future, and cannot take into account future innovations or technologies that could reduce premature deaths from air pollution. There’s also a lot of uncertainty around estimated deaths at low levels of PM2.5, but EPA’s estimate of 1,400 deaths assumes there’s no safe level of fine particulates.

Democrats and environmentalists opposed ACE, saying the Clean Power Plan was necessary to fight global warming and improve air quality. Virtually all opponents of ACE cited The Times’ report of increased air pollution deaths.

Inslee promised legal action against the Trump administration if they finalize the ACE rule. Other Democratic states and environmentalists are likely to follow suit.

“And if you want to know why this is a terrible idea take a look out your window because we are choking on dirty air, and he would give us dirtier air to breathe,” Inslee said.

However, the “dirty air” hovering over Washington is the product of wildfires raging along the West Coast. More than one million acres have been consumed by wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington this year.

So, far from being the product of coal-burning or Trump, it’s the years of poor forest management by federal and state officials that allowed dead trees and debris to pile up.

Todd Myers, the director of the Center for Environment at the Washington Policy Center, pointed out Inslee’s administration has not met its own “forest treatment” targets. In fact, they’ve failed so badly, the administration hasn’t updated its efforts since 2015.

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