Two Harvard social scientists argue that 80,000 Americans could die each decade with completed and new changes at the Environmental Protection Agency pushed by a Kentucky native and President Donald Trump.
In an essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association, David Cutler and Francesca Dominici claim reversals or proposals to reverse dozens of environmental rules will make the air dirtier and expose people to more chemicals. The rules changes have been pushed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who attended school in Lexington before a public sector career.
A spokesperson for the EPA dismissed the essay as rhetoric, not research, in a statement provided to Bloomberg News.
Cutler defended the piece by saying it was based on the EPA's own "science as as presented in regulatory impact analyses," Bloomberg reported.
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Most damaging, according to Cutler and Dominici, would be the repeal of the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama's signature policy on climate change.
Based on analysis done by the EPA when the Clean Power Plan was implemented, repealing the rule would lead to an estimated 36,000 deaths each decade and nearly 630,000 cases of respiratory infection in children, the authors in the study claim. They say the repeal of the plan would increase exposure to small atmospheric particulate matter.
Possible rollbacks in emission standards for automobiles could result in 5,500 deaths per decade and 140,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children per decade, according to the study. It also estimates that proposals to not require rebuilt trucks to meet emission standards could lead to 41,000 premature deaths per decade and 900,000 cases of respiratory ailments. (A company planning to make truck beds in Kentucky backs the reversal of the emission standards.)
Pruitt's and Trump's environmental agenda also could affect pollution of rivers and streams that are sources for drinking water, the Harvard scientists claim.
“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 Obama, and the federal government is investing more money to improve water infrastructure than ever before,” the EPA said.
The essay from Cutler, a public-health economist, and Dominici, a biostatistician, was not a formal peer-reviewed study. Tony Cox, who was appointed by Pruitt to sit on the EPA's Science Advisory Board and to chair the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, feels the essay included "highly speculative estimates of health impacts that reflect guess work," according to Bloomberg.
At least one influential economist felt different, according to Bloomberg. C. Arden Pope, who has worked on air-pollution studies for 25 years, called the essay excellent and vouched for both authors.