1. Opinion

Editorial: Trump's new math for dirty air

The Big Rivers Electric Corporation power plant in Robards, Ky.. The Trump administration in August made public the details of its new pollution rules governing coal-burning power plants, and the fine print includes an acknowledgment that the plan would increase carbon emissions and lead to up to 1,400 premature deaths annually. Luke Sharret | The New York Times (2018)
Published Jun. 9

The Trump administration had a choice when its plan for replacing an Obama-era pollution rule was forecast to result in thousands of premature deaths. It could have recognized the harm and ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to side with public health over big polluters. Or it could simply change the math for what constitutes a health risk, thereby driving the mortality figures lower. That the administration leans toward the second option is not surprising, which is why Congress and the courts should ensure any change is based on sound science.

The administration made public the details of its new pollution rules in August, seeking to overturn an aggressive plan by the Obama White House to speed up the closure of coal-burning power plants, one of the main producers of greenhouse gases. The Obama-era Clean Power Plan set new targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions, encouraging utilities to use cleaner energy sources like solar and wind under a proposal it estimated would help prevent between 1,500 and 3,600 premature deaths annually by 2030.

But the Trump administration countered that the plan was too costly and burdensome to business, and it proposed an alternative, the Affordable Clean Energy rule. It would encourage minor on-site efficiency improvements at individual plants and allow states to relax pollution rules to enable older, dirtier plants to operate longer. The Trump EPA estimated its plan would have resulted in an increase of between 470 and 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 because of increased rates of microscopic airborne particulates. Those particulates are linked to heart and lung disease and can trigger chronic conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.

But now, the New York Times reported last month, the administration is considering a new analytical model that would significantly drive down its number of estimated deaths. The proposed methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. And the administration would likely use the new standard, should it be adopted, as a weapon to further roll back other pollution rules. Five people familiar with the plan who spoke with the Times - all current or former E.P.A. officials - said the new model would appear in the agency's final analysis of the regulation, which is expected to be made public this month.

Experts in environmental law and health criticized the change, likening it to rule-making on the fly and deriding it as an attempt to whitewash the mortality figures. This looks like a math exercise in reverse, with the administration shopping for a formula to produce a rosier result from dirtier air. Congress and the courts, which may ultimately decide this issue, need to stand firmly with decades of federal protections for clean air and public health. Responsible players in the power industry are already moving to cleaner energies. There is no need to arrest that momentum by rewarding the worst polluters.


  1.  Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal
  2. Medal of Honor recipient Robert Ingram Navy Medical History; Photo by Nick Del Calzo
    About 50 recipients visit the region this week to share their stories and reaffirm their permanent connections.
  3. The bipartisan Lower Health Care Costs Act would impose price controls on doctors. MICHAEL MCCLOSKEY  |  iStockPhoto
    U.S. Senate legislation aims to prevent surprise bills but actually would hurt doctors and patients, a James Madison Institute policy expert writes.
  4. European producers of premium specialty agricultural products like French wine, are facing a U.S. tariff hike, with $7.5 billion duties on a range of European goods approved by the World Trade Organization. DANIEL COLE  |  AP
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
  5. Syria's opposition flag flies on a pole in Tal Abyad, Syria, as seen from the town of Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds is expected to be the focus of their discussions. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) LEFTERIS PITARAKIS  |  AP
    From Russia to refugees to shifting alliances, a lot could go wrong, writes a former Naval War College professor.
  6. Pasco County community news TMCCARTY80  |  Tara McCarty
    Pasco County letters to the editor
  7. The Howard Frankland Bridge, which connects St. Petersburg and Tampa, is a leading symbol of regional unity.
    Organizations that rebrand themselves should have a regional mission that reflects the name.
  8. The White House says it has chosen President Donald Trump's golf resort in Miami as the site for next year's Group of Seven summit.  (AP Photo/Alex Sanz, File) ALEX SANZ  |  AP
    Monday’s letters to the editor
  9. Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o has written a children's book called Sulwe, about a girl who "was born the color of midnight."[Photo (2014) by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP] File photo
    Most white people have never heard of skin lightening cream or the “paper bag test,” where your fiance can be no darker than a paper sack. | Leonard Pitts Jr.
  10. Ayana Lage, 26, and Vagner Lage, 27, pose with a sonogram of their unborn child. Ayana writes openly about going through a miscarriage due to the baby having a rare genetic defect. She wonders why more women don't discuss their miscarriages. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.