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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Health Policy Expert on Advisory Committee Reporting Environmental Protection Agency Proposal on Mercury Pollution Is Based on Faulty Analysis

Environmental economists from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Harvard, Yale, and other leading research institutions say a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal that would eventually allow more mercury pollution from power plants relies on a cost-benefit analysis that is fatally flawed. In a new report, the economists detail how the EPA’s calculations inappropriately fail to consider how reducing mercury pollution provides tens of billions of dollars in health benefits to Americans.

“The EPA is ignoring important public health benefits that should be part of the analysis,” said Dr. Matthew Neidell, Columbia Mailman professor of health policy and management. Dr. Neidell and the other authors are members of the External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee (E-EEAC), an independent organization providing the best available economic advice to the EPA. The E-EEAC was established after the EPA dissolved its own EEAC in 2018. Dr. Neidell once served on that EPA advisory committee, which had contributed to policy analysis for 25 years.

A central issue in the report is that of “co-benefits” — benefits the American people gain that are not the main focus of a given rule. In the case of EPA’s rule limiting mercury pollution from power plants – called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) — tens of billions of dollars in public health benefits were estimated to come from the associated reduction in particulate matter – tiny pieces of matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size that are a hazard to human health.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) policies and EPA guidance say co-benefits should always be considered when analyzing the effects of proposed policies. But EPA’s proposed mercury rule omits any consideration of co-benefits, including reducing particulate pollution.

Read the report of the E-EEAC Review Committee.

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