EPA Finalizes Last-Minute Air Quality Rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule Wednesday that will change the way the Agency evaluates new regulations under the Clean Air Act. The move could prevent EPA from implementing stronger air quality measures in the future.

The rule requires that all significant Clean Air Act rules receive a cost-benefit analysis even when environmental impacts outweigh the potential economic ones. Also included in the rule are measures designed to prevent EPA from considering co-benefits in any analysis. Often when air quality regulations are implemented targeting a reduction in specific types of emissions, other pollutant levels are also reduced, presenting additional benefits in the form of better health outcomes. Those will no longer be considered by EPA in its final determination.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the finalized rule at an event on Wednesday. From the press release:

“Today’s action ensures that EPA is consistent in evaluating costs and benefits when developing broad-reaching policies that affect the American public,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, we are ensuring that future rulemakings under the Clean Air Act are transparent, fair, and consistent with EPA governing statutes, the American public deserves to know the benefits and costs of federal regulations.”

Environmental advocates strongly criticize the last-minute rule, believing that it skews any analysis in favor of polluting entities. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) issued a statement expressing concern over the new rule’s impact on the health of the Bay.

From the CBF press release:

This change could weaken air protections EPA is relying on to meet its nitrogen-reduction commitment under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Dirty air from power plants and transportation contributes roughly one-third of the nitrogen pollution in the Bay and its rivers and streams. Curbing nitrogen emissions is vital to the success of the Blueprint’s plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and the local rivers and streams that feed into it.

Alison Prost, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration, issued this statement about the rule:

“Minimizing the co-benefits of air pollution regulations could weaken the very programs required to achieve the commitments of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, our last, best chance to save the Bay.

“What’s worse, EPA is unnecessarily putting corporate polluters’ bottom line ahead of the health of children, low-income communities, and people of color across the Bay watershed.

“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation looks forward to working with President-Elect Joe Biden and his administration to ensure EPA fully values co-benefits when developing air pollution programs to protect human health and the environment.”

Useful Links:

Conduit Street: EPA Proposes Changes to Clean Air Rulemaking

EPA Press Release

CBF Press Release