The Trump administration‘s proposed changes to environmental policies would lead to an extra 80,000 deaths per decade, according to two Harvard University scientists. The Environmental Protection Agency contends that these troubling results are not scientific, which only highlights the agency’s own uneasy relationship with science.
In an essay published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, public health economist David Cutler and statistician Francesca Dominici argue that, even when using an “extremely conservative estimate,” Trump's policies would cause respiratory problems for more than a million people over a decade, many of them children.
For example, the Trump administration wants to repeal the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy that pushed states to switch to renewable energy and abandon coal. Over a decade, this alone would lead to over half a million respiratory infections in children and about 36,000 deaths, the authors write. Similarly, the EPA wants to pull the US out of the landmark Paris climate agreement and deregulate industrial plants, both of which would lead to more air pollution and worse health. “This sobering statistic captures only a small fraction of the cumulative public health damages associated with the full range of rollbacks and systemic actions proposed by the Trump administration,” the authors write.
Unsurprisingly, the Environmental Protection Agency, led by scandal-plagued Scott Pruitt, pushed back on the findings. “This is not a scientific article, it’s a political article,“ the EPA said in a statement to Bloomberg. It also claimed that greenhouse gas emissions are down because of Trump. (This is not true.)
The JAMA publication is an essay and not a peer-reviewed study, so in this sense, it is not a scientific study. It’s also certainly true that the essay is political because it reflects on political policies and is critical of our government. But that doesn’t mean that its findings are illegitimate; the analyses were done using the EPA’s own data from before the Trump administration. But the EPA loves to pretend that any data that might contradict its motives does not exist, without providing new data of its own.
The EPA cannot brush off the article as “not scientific” when the analyses are widely accepted and the EPA itself does not adhere to science. In the hands of Pruitt, the agency is well-known for ignoring recent data and, for example, relying heavily on talking points from auto industry lobbyists to push for dirtier cars. In April, the EPA proposed a rule that would limit the type of scientific research it can use to create regulations, provoking a rebuke from its own science board a month later. These are not the actions of an agency interested in science or one that has any moral standing to dismiss criticisms of being unscientific. They’re the actions of an agency that cares only about politics and its own motives — and by doing so, it will harm the health of millions.