Federal regulators could be significantly overstating the public health benefits of air quality rules, according to a recent study by Indiana University researchers.
The analysis, published in the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, found that even minor variations regarding the dangers of air particles could result in substantial changes in the anticipated number of lives saved over a large population.
IU researchers evaluated nine regulations issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency between 2011 and 2013, including rules regarding mercury levels and fine particle emissions. Uncertainty about the impact of air particles, the study said, meant the number of saved lives could range between 80,000 and zero.
EPA estimates tend to reflect the higher end of that spectrum, the analysis said, without disclosing that, in effect, no lives could be saved.
The researches called for updating EPA methods for assessing expert opinions on air particle pollution, as well as an improved understanding of the rules' economic impacts. A dramatic reduction in the projected number of lives saved, they said, would make the rules "less likely to have economic benefits in excess of their costs."
The study comes as the EPA prepares to release a rule directing power plants to dramatically reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. A recent study by researchers at Syracuse University and Harvard University indicated the proposal could prevent thousands of premature deaths each year, but the coal industry said the study ignored the rule's economic and public safety risks.