FIRST PERSON-Health Benefits

Where did all the health benefits go? Evaluating EPA's repeal of the Clean Power Plan

Think about driving a car down a highway. Music playing. Wind in your hair. It’s a classic symbol of American freedom. But regulation is never far away. Check out that speed limit sign. You know how it works: the police can fine you for driving faster than 70 mph. The faster you drive, the bigger the fine. Maybe you think it’s over regulation. But the point of the speed limit is pretty clear. You could cause an accident if you drive too fast and the higher the speed, the worse the accident. In other words, speed kills. Speed limits are supposed to make the highways safer for everyone. Most people are sympathetic to the basic idea of a speed limit. But why is there a specific speed limit at 70 mph? That seems arbitrary. Why not 60 mph? Or 80 mph? It’s not like the connection between speed and safety only begins when you cross the official threshold. People still die in law abiding 50 mph car accidents. Regardless of the official speed limit: It is safer to drive at a slower speed. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should set a national speed limit of 15 mph. People enjoy driving fast for good reasons. The ideal speed is the solution to a cost benefit calculation that weighs both the benefits and costs of driving a bit faster. We’ll let you make your own choices, but don’t be deluded when you do. It is still dangerous to drive, even if you are complying with the posted speed limit.

The speed limit is a good example to keep in mind as the EPA moves to repeal the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The EPA’s new analysis on CPP does not consider the health benefits of improving air quality below an official threshold. With this new report, the EPA is doing the equivalent of advising a young teen that there is no chance of dying in a car accident as long as they drive below the official speed limit. That’s not good advice.

Nikolaos Zirogiannis, Coady Wing, and Alex J. Hollingsworth are on the SPEA faculty. They have done extensive, peer-reviewed research on the consequences of changes in U.S. energy, health and environmental policy.