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Harvard Scientists: Trump’s Environmental Agenda May Cause 80,000 Deaths Per Decade

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Madison Dapcevich

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Madison Dapcevich

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker

Madison is a freelance science reporter and full-time fact-checker based in the wild Rocky Mountains of western Montana.

Freelance Writer and Fact-Checker

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Current environmental policy changes initiated and supported by the Trump Administration could lead to an extra 80,000 deaths each decade, say two Harvard social scientists.

Policy-makers under the guidance of President Trump and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt have reversed or proposed to reverse more than 60 environmental rules

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David Cutler, public health economist, and biostatistician Francesca Dominici examined eight impact analyses published within the text of the very rules the administration plans to reverse. The two added up the associated potential health impacts and published their essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association

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The largest consequences will come from changes in air quality. For instance, repealing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which establishes national carbon emissions rates for existing power plants, could lead to an estimated 36,000 deaths each decade and as much as 630,000 respiratory infections in children. Weakening national targets on motor vehicles in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy could lead to more than 5,000 deaths and 140,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children over 10 years of age.

Water could also see a big plunge in regulatory oversight. The EPA has moved to rescind the 2015 Waters of the United States rule that expanded the Clean Water Act to include more US streams and wetlands that provide water sources to more than 130 million people. By reducing protections on a number of waterways, more people could see an increase in pollutants in their drinking water, further contributing to health detriments and issues.

Other issues not quantified by an analysis but which the authors say will have a negative impact on public health include withdrawing from the Paris agreement, imposing tariffs on solar panels, and rolling back the “once in, always in” rule for industrial plants – all decisions that will increase fine particulate matter in the air and increase pollutants that affect respiratory and cardiovascular health.

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Additionally, the authors say their “extremely conservative estimate” will likely lead to respiratory problems for more than 1 million people. 

“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,” they wrote. 

In a statement to Bloomberg, the EPA dismissed the essay as rhetoric, not research.

“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.

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The scientists defended their article, saying their estimates are based on the EPA’s own science.


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