The EPA failed to consider environmental justice impacts of its proposal to overhaul how it calculates the costs and benefits of Clean Air Act rules, violating an executive order that dates back a quarter century, groups opposed to the measure testified Wednesday.
The order, which former President Bill Clinton signed in 1994, required federal agencies to identify and address any disproportionately high adverse health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations, to the extent practicable and permitted by law.
“EPA expressly abstains from evaluating the environmental justice impacts of the proposal on communities of color and low-income communities, flouting Executive Order 12,898,” Benjamin Levitan, Clean Air Act attorney for the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, said at the agency’s virtual hearing.
The Environmental Protection Agency in early June proposed an approach (RIN: 2060-AU51) that would focus squarely on specific pollutants targeted by Clean Air Act rules—and disregard any auxiliary environmental benefits, such as reductions in fine particle pollution.
The EPA said it didn’t factor environmental justice impacts in compliance with the order “because it does not establish an environmental health or safety standard.”
Exposure to fine airborne particle pollution, which is the byproduct of fossil fuel combustion in automobiles and industrial processes, is closely linked to serious respiratory and cardiac complications that often result in premature deaths, especially in low-income communities and communities of color.
“A policy affecting how EPA calculates or assesses public health benefits falls squarely within the executive order’s purview,” Levitan told the agency. “And EPA must clearly explain the environmental justice impacts.”
Rachel Cleetus, climate and energy program policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg Law that the EPA’s proposal is “simply stunning,” because data shows that many kinds of air pollution, such as fine airborne particle pollution, fall disproportionately on communities of color and low-income communities.
Cleetus pointed to the EPA’s own 2018 study that showed Black people face 1.54 times the exposure to fine airborne particle pollution compared to the overall population.
But representatives of business groups and conservative think tanks testified in support of the measure.
Kyle Isakower, senior vice president for regulatory and energy policy at the American Council for Capital Formation, who supports the EPA action, said co-benefits “should not be the primary driver of regulations.” If they are, he said, “that means the regulation targeted is the wrong pollutant.”
Othe groups in favor pointed to the Obama administration’s 2012 power plant standards for mercury and other toxic air pollutants as an example of what several called “regulatory abuse.”
Because air quality has improved in recent decades, “it is difficult to justify new or tightened rules without the purported co-benefits of ever-greater reductions in fine particulates,” argued Benjamin Zycher, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who specializes in energy and environmental policy.
The agency will finalize the rule after reviewing comments.