Science Magazines Article Expresses Co-Benefit Concern

Environmental advocates are concerned about EPA directives that could change the way the agency approaches co-benefits. In an April article in Science’s online publication Sciencemag.org, advocates say an EPA directive under former head Scott Pruitt could disarm future regulations with a change to how co-benefits are considered. Although environmental advocates say the Pruitt directive’s writing about co-benefits seems innocuous, they are concerned. The article quotes a Rutgers University professor who said advocates worry because Pruitt and the Trump administration are involved with offering a change to the concept.

What are Co-benefits?

In short, co-benefits are the first part of an EPA acronym known as COBRA, which stands for Co-benefits Risk Assessment. It’s basically a tool used by local and state governments to estimate:

  • How changes in clean energy programs and policies affect human health.
  • Estimates the economic value of health benefits of clean energy policy.
  • Maps the benefits of a reduction of certain emissions.

The EPA touts COBRA as a “preliminary” screening tool to identify situations that could benefit from further evaluation of a proposed air quality model. These co-benefits are relevant to air pollution control in that they define other benefits of removing particulates from the sky than just their removal, often done by employing new and used catalytic and thermal oxidizers. Common co-benefits include reduction of the health costs of asthma treatment and the economic benefit of fewer days lost from.

The article says environmental advocates worry that language in the Trump administration’s directive questions the validity of co-benefits. These co-benefits were instrumental in the passage of Obama-era legislation from 2011 known as the Mercury Air Toxic Standards (MATS). It required coal-burning plants to reduce emissions of “hazardous substances,” reports the Sciencemag.org article. Basically, co-benefits were factored into the overall savings that would result from the legislation.

Critics and Co-benefits

Critics say the financial benefits of MATS could not be articulated on the merits of the regulation by itself. It needed the co-benefits factored into the financial calculation to make the case that the regulation would be a good idea. Critics also said if the co-benefits were sizable, which they argue are considerable in MATS, that the conditions leading to those benefits should have their own regulatory standard.

Twenty-one states affected businesses and other interested groups sued the Obama administration citing such an argument. At the time the Sciencemag.com article was released, the case made it to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. Since then, Brett Kavanaugh has been selected as the nominee to be the next Supreme Court justice. He was on the D.C. Court of Appeals before being nominated and on that court, voted against MATS because of the co-benefit factor. The Court of Appeals indefinitely postponed proceedings on the matter until the Trump administration figure out what they are going to do about the Obama-era legislation.

Environmental advocates disagree with the ruling citing rules from the Office of Management and Budget requires legislation like MATS to consider co-benefits in the financial analysis of such a regulation.