Under President Donald Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency’s policies could lead to upwards of 80,000 American deaths each decade, according to an essay by two Harvard social scientists.
The opinion column, published in a prominent medical journal, has been criticized by the EPA as nothing more than political commentary – a judgment the pair likely expected considering the article has lesser standing than a peer-reviewed study.
David Cutler, a public-health economist, and Francesca Dominici, a biostatistician, looked at eight EPA policy actions that have been proposed or are in process—including rollbacks of Obama-era clean air, water and chemical rules—and tallied up the possible health impacts. “A central feature of [Trump’s] agenda is environmental damage: making the air dirtier and exposing people to more toxic chemicals. The beneficiaries, in contrast, will be a relatively few well-connected companies,” they wrote.
The essay appears as a “JAMA Forum” feature of the Journal of the American Medical Association, which allows researchers to offer individual perspectives on health and policy.
In response, the EPA wrote off the pair’s findings as political versus scientific:
“This is not a scientific article, it’s a political article. The science is clear, under President Trump greenhouse gas emissions are down, Superfund sites are being cleaned up at a higher rate than under President Obama, and the federal government is investing more money to improve water infrastructure than ever before,” the EPA said.
The agency did not respond to questions asking for additional supporting context for these assertions. In April, the EPA released data showing a decline in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from the previous years. The data ended in 2016, before the start of the current administration.
In defence of the essay, Cutler noted that the estimates used came from the EPA’s science, telling Bloomberg if the agency doesn’t “like what their scientists say, they should provide scientific reasons for thinking so.”
Cutler and Dominici received a vote of approval from C. Arden Pope, a Brigham Young University economist who Bloomberg notes has worked on numerous influential air-pollution studies in the past 25 years.
[Pope] called the essay excellent and vouched for both “extremely knowledgeable” authors. He has collaborated with Dominici in the past, who he said “has a healthy understanding of the complexities” of making scientific data sets as transparent as possible.