EPA changes could cause 80,000 more deaths per decade

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Eric Ros­ton

Two Har­vard so­cial sci­en­tists, writing an opin­ion col­umn in a prom­i­nent medical jour­nal, have put for­ward “an ex­tremely con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate” that some 80,000 more Amer­i­cans could die each decade if pro­posed changes at the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency are im­ple­mented. The essay, which was not a for­mal peer-re­viewed study, has added to the de­bate about how the agency uses sci­en­tific re­search.

David Cut­ler, a pub­lic-health econ­o­mist, and Francesca Do­minici, a bio­statis­ti­cian, looked at eight EPA pol­icy ac­tions that have been pro­posed or are in process-in­clud­ing roll­backs of Obama-era clean air, wa­ter and chem­i­cal rules-and tal­lied up the pos­si­ble health im­pacts.

“A cen­tral fea­ture of (Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s) agenda is en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age: mak­ing the air dirt­ier and ex­pos­ing peo­ple to more toxic chem­i­cals. The ben­e­fi­cia­ries, in con­trast, will be a rel­a­tively few well­con­nected com­pa­nies,” they wrote.

The essay ap­pears as a “JAMA Fo­rum” fea­ture of the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Medical As­so­ci­a­tion, which al­lows re­searchers to of­fer in­di­vid­ual per­spec­tives on health and pol­icy.

The EPA dis­missed the essay as rhetoric, not re­search, in a state­ment pro­vided to Bloomberg News.

“This is not a sci­en­tific ar­ti­cle, it’s a po­lit­i­cal ar­ti­cle. The science is clear: Un­der Pres­i­dent Trump, green­house gas emis­sions are down, Su­per­fund sites are be­ing cleaned up at a higher rate than un­der Pres­i­dent (Barack) Obama and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is in­vest­ing more money to im­prove wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture than ever be­fore,” the EPA said.

The agency did not re­spond to ques­tions ask­ing for ad­di­tional sup­port­ing con­text for these as­ser­tions. In April, the EPA re­leased data show­ing a de­cline in U.S. green­house gas emis­sions from the pre­vi­ous years. The data ended in 2016, be­fore the start of the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Cut­ler de­fended the com­men­tary, point­ing out that the es­ti­mates are based on the EPA’s own science, as pre­sented in reg­u­la­tory im­pact analy­ses. “If they don’t like what their sci­en­tists say, they should pro­vide sci­en­tific rea­sons for think­ing so,” he said.

The essay “presents highly spec­u­la­tive es­ti­mates of health im­pacts that re­flect guess-work and as­sump­tions of un­known va­lid­ity, not facts im­plied by avail­able data,” ac­cord­ing to Tony Cox, pres­i­dent of a Denver-based ap­plied re­search firm that spe­cial­izes in health, safety and en­vi­ron­men­tal risks.

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