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Cost analysis is latest Trump-era rule to be rescinded by EPA

The move sets the stage for aggressive action on air pollution

The EPA, under  Administrator Michael Regan, has been moving to reverse Trump administration actions.
The EPA, under Administrator Michael Regan, has been moving to reverse Trump administration actions. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

The EPA announced Thursday it is rescinding the previous administration’s “benefit-cost” rule that critics say inappropriately hampers the agency’s ability to issue regulations on air pollution.

The move is just the latest in a broad rollback of Trump-era regulations that President Joe Biden ordered shortly after taking office.

“Revoking this unnecessary and misguided rule is proof positive of this administration’s commitment to science,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “We will continue to fix the wrongs of the past and move forward aggressively to deliver on President Biden’s clear commitment to protecting public health and the environment.”

The Trump administration finalized the rule in December, touting it as a blow for transparency and consistency. It would have required the agency to take a new approach to conducting cost-benefit analysis when crafting regulations, with a particular focus on those issued under the Clean Air Act.

While many EPA statutes contain language on weighing the potential costs of regulations, Trump officials said at the time, there is nothing ensuring that analysis is consistent from rule to rule.

[What does ‘conserved’ environment mean? Interior seeks an answer]

But the move was widely seen as an attempt to place hurdles in the way of any attempts by the Biden administration to enact major air pollution regulations. Rescinding it will help clear the way for more aggressive action on air pollution.

American Lung Association President and CEO Harold Wimmer said in a statement that the Trump administration’s rule would have artificially reduced the value assigned to eliminating pollution and that Clean Air Act standards are cost-effective in part because reducing one pollutant often reduces others along with it.

“This is good news because steps the nation takes to clean up toxic air pollutants, including mercury and acid gases, have saved thousands of lives thanks to reductions of particle pollution in our air at the same time,” Wimmer said. “Lives saved from reducing a certain pollutant as a result of steps taken to clean up another pollutant aren’t any less real or valuable.”

Laundry list

Within hours of taking his oath of office, Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to review a laundry list of Trump administration actions related to the environment and public health, the bulk of which involved the EPA or the Interior Department.

Biden’s order called for policies and regulations to be eliminated or revised if the agencies found they were flawed, and his Cabinet officials have been doing just that with one rule after another.

The Interior Department, for example, has moved to rescind a Trump rule that shielded oil and gas companies from legal consequences when they accidentally kill migratory birds. It also is reevaluating whether to limit mining on millions of acres in order to protect the greater sage grouse after the Trump administration determined such a ban was unnecessary.

The administration is working on new methane rules even as Capitol Hill Democrats are set to eliminate those written by the previous administration by way of the Congressional Review Act.

The EPA and other agencies are in the process of restoring California’s ability to set its own vehicle emissions standards, which the Trump administration sought to block.

The EPA issued a more restrictive toxicity assessment of a particular class of  “forever chemicals” after announcing that it had found the previous administration’s assessment was tainted by political influence.

The agency has moved to eliminate a Trump rule requiring the agency to give greater weight to scientific studies that are based on publicly available data. Trump officials said such a requirement would promote transparency, but opponents said it would prevent the agency from using the best possible science. That’s because some of the most relevant studies could include data that’s required to remain confidential.

Regan dismissed members of two key EPA scientific advisory boards and plans to reformulate them from scratch. Critics of that move said it was heavy-handed to fire qualified experts in the middle of their terms on the boards. But environmental advocates said such action was necessary after the previous administration stacked the panels with members friendly to industry interests.

The EPA also has restored climate information to its website that was removed during the Trump administration.

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