Thank You, EPA

Given that EPA is in the midst of finalizing some of the most critical regulation protecting American human health from poisonous air pollution, one might think that a simple “thank you” might be in order.

Instead, EPA is facing unfounded attacks from several angles – one of the most egregious from Steve Milloy in a recent Washington Times op-ed in which he asked the agency to “show him the bodies” of victims of air pollution.

The evidence linking air pollution to adverse human health impacts including mortality is substantial.  Recently, Michael Livermore, executive director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, released an excellent response that easily rips Milloy’s arguments to shreds:

“Questioning these health concerns means countering a substantial body of empirical health studies, conducted both by federal agencies and by independent researchers. These studies, which have been subjected to the scrutiny of the peer review process, have come to a set of well-supported conclusions about the relationship between particulate matter and mortality …”

Livermore points to specific research, including that of the National Research Council (reviewed by a range of independent bodies) and other peer-reviewed studies that back up the EPA’s analysis.

Lynn Goldman, Dean and Professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services and a member of EDF's Board of Trustees, also responded to Milloy’s baseless assertions in a recent Letter to the Editor in the Washington Times:

“As a research scientist, I know that volumes of medical science document the harm air pollution does to the human body, and that the scientific community has concluded air pollution causes disease and death …”

She refers to the family members who can actually point to the bodies of loved ones who “dropped dead from a heart attack after breathing too much air on a Code Red day” and to the children she has treated as a pediatrician suffering from asthma attacks. And the problem of air pollution is widespread — according to the American Lung Association, about half of all Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone or particulate matter.

Similar to Milloy, Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton has also questioned the science behind EPA’s analyses, but additionally questioned their economic assessment of the value of the benefits resulting from EPA’s regulation.  Referring to the monetized value of avoiding premature death from air pollution, Barton said that he doesn’t trust EPA’s assumptions and wants someone to check them.

In fact, EPA’s assumption about the value of avoiding premature death (known as the Value of a Statistical Life, or VSL) represents the most credible, scientifically sound, and peer-reviewed figure available.  The VSL measures how much people are willing to pay for small reductions in the risk of mortality, and is often estimated by looking at how much you have to pay someone to take a more dangerous job.  The EPA uses an average value across 26 studies estimating the VSL published between 1974 and 1991 – a value of $6.3 million (in 2000 dollars) that has been vetted and endorsed by the Science Advisory Board (SAB).

Although the idea of placing a value on human life can be controversial, the main thing to remember is that regulations reducing harmful air pollution will save lives, and it is crucial that these benefits are captured when undertaking economic analyses – EPA’s methodology for doing so is based on years of careful, peer-reviewed study, and its credibility is widely acknowledged.

As New York University researcher, Scott Holladay, pointed out in a recent blog post, “what the EPA is able to value, it does in the most rigorous, academically defensible manner.”

The conclusion is that cleaner air will save lives, improve the health of Americans across the country, and is a great investment for our economy – thank you, EPA.

For more on how cleaner air can save lives, improve health, and help our economy, see the Moms Clean Air Force website and a previous EDF blog post on the overwhelming benefits of the Clean Air Act Amendments.

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