WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency announced final rule changes Wednesday that would make it harder for the incoming Biden administration to make new rules to protect the environment and public health by limiting the consideration of their costs and benefits.
If it is finalized, the rule — the final version of which has not yet been published in the Federal Register — will steer the agency away from considering the broader public benefits of new regulations, such as the value of fewer asthma attacks and respiratory ailments.
"Our goal with the rule is to better help the public understand the 'why' of a rulemaking," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told an audience at the conservative advocacy group the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, criticizing previous EPA actions as opaque.
Wheeler said rules promulgated by previous administrations were "the work of the administrative state."
The Biden administration could reverse the rule, but that process would take months or more and require a public comment period.
Proposed in June, the rule, which met swift condemnation from environmental organizations, is the latest in a string of environmental regulations that favor industry the Trump administration is rushing to finalize.
The EPA moved to maintain federal soot pollution standards Monday, despite a growing pile of evidence of soot's health risks and a recommendation by nonpartisan staff scientists that tightening the limits could save more than 12,000 lives a year.
Last week, the Bureau of Land Management presented plans to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a pristine and ecologically sensitive stretch in the state's northeast. That decision came after separate moves to lift logging restrictions on the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest, which also is in Alaska, and approve seismic testing in the region to search for petroleum deposits.
Asked Monday about a potential backlog at the Government Printing Office, Wheeler said he was confident the soot rule and a separate rule on ozone would be published before the Trump administration is out of office.
The current draft of the rule directs the agency to include in the introductions of yet-to-be-written rules a cost-benefit analysis, with a specific focus on what the EPA is allowed to consider under the Clean Air Act.
EPA staff members writing future rules will also have to explain how the rule affects the American public — a not-so-subtle critique of climate rules that benefit people outside U.S. borders.
Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, "The EPA's mission is to protect human health and the environment. The new rule is a deliberate, targeted strike at that mission."
Cleetus, who signed a letter in August with other environmental and advocacy groups in opposition to the rule, then in a proposal phase, pressed the Biden administration to reverse the rule.
Air pollution standards are "cost-effective, in part because cleaning up one pollutant often leads to measures that reduce other pollutants as well," said Harold Wimmer, the president and CEO of the American Lung Association.