The link between air pollution and premature death is widely accepted by the scientific community. And a new Trump administration rule is set to cause between 470 and 1,400 more of those pollution-related early deaths per year in the US by 2030.
A new coal plant emissions rule, signed by the acting head of the US Environmental Protection Agency on Monday evening, and set to be finalized in 60 days following a comment period, would repeal and replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. Under the new rule, regulations on coal-fired power plants would be slackened, and greenhouse-gas emissions—the primary drivers of climate change–would increase. And so would types of air pollution that directly harm human health.
Under the new rule, coal-fired power plants would effectively be allowed to release more of a fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, than they have been under the Obama-era rule. PM2.5 is linked to a range of health problems, including asthma and heart disease.
As the New York Times points out, the EPA itself wrote a several-hundred-page-long technical analysis of its own plan that puts its deleterious effects bluntly: Compared to the Obama-era plan, the EPA wrote, “implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health.”
In addition to the increased number of premature deaths, the agency writes the rule could also cause 120,000 new cases of exacerbated asthma per year by 2030, as well as 48,000 new annual missed days of school, 48,000 missed work days, 760 non-fatal heart attacks, and 690 emergency room visits for asthma.
Whenever the EPA proposes a new regulation, it writes a cost-benefit analysis to go with it. When, under the Obama administration, the agency developed the Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants by 32% by 2030, the cost-benefit analysis calculated between 1,500 and 3,600 premature deaths from air-pollution exposure per year would be voided—along with 1,700 annual heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed work and school days.
By comparison, the Times reports that the Trump administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule will effectively cut carbon dioxide emissions just 0.7% to 1.5% from 2005 levels by 2030. It will also save far fewer lives, and have a much weaker positive impact on public health.
The World Health Organization determined that air pollution was at fault for one in every nine deaths each year. Public health in general suffers amid chronic air pollution, at all stages of life: studies have linked chronic air pollution exposure to early birth and low birth weight, cognitive delay in children and autism risk, increased incidence of suicide, and premature aging of the brain.