President Trump and his administration are masters of spinning information to sell an agenda to the public. But while bending opinion may be as easy as spouting a few false claims, it takes more than hollow bluster to subvert federal regulations in order to oppress the disadvantaged to a degree that satisfies the swamp creatures the president has brought into public service. Doing so often involves utilizing misleading analytical formulas. As it turns out, they’re pretty good at that, too.
The most recent example of the administration’s spurious statistic shuffling came last week, when the New York Times reported that the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to alter the way it calculates how many people could die from pollution in order to strip Obama-era environmental protections.
Last August, the Trump administration analyzed the cost of replacing the 2015 Clean Power Plan with a new plan that lightens restrictions on the coal industry. The administration found that doing so would increase fine particulate matter in the air — which causes respiratory issues and other health problems — and that the increase could result in up to 1,400 deaths per year by 2030. A full version of Trump’s new plan, the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, is due to be released in June. It will not include this death estimate, as the administration is using a “new analytical model” based on the false idea that there are no public health benefits to making the air any cleaner than what federal law requires, or 2.5 PM, a measure of fine particulate matter concentration. As the Times puts it:
“To put the matter in perspective, most scientists say particulate matter standards are like speed limits. On many highways, a limit of 65 miles per hour is considered reasonable to protect public safety. But that doesn’t mean the risk of an accident disappears at 55 m.p.h., or even 25.”
William Wehrum, the EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, has defended the change, telling the Times the new approach will “illuminate the issue.” As is the case with most of Trump’s EPA appointments, Wehrum spent much of his pre-government career challenging the agency in which he now serves, including as a lobbyist for the coal industry. In April, the House Energy and Commerce Committee launched an investigation into whether Wehrum was using his new office to benefit his former clients.
This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has cooked climate statistics in order to enact an anti-environment agenda (in August it chose not to include several key metrics in its analysis of how much damage CO2 emissions do to the economy). The practice also isn’t limited to environmental issues. A few weeks before the Times reported on the EPA’s new, coal-friendly analytics, the Office of Management and Budget released a proposal that would change how the federal government defines poverty. Doing so would both allow the president to tout better poverty numbers and prevent millions of Americans from receiving government benefits.
The proposal calls for the Census Bureau to use the consumer price index rather than the standard consumer price index in determining what constitutes poverty. The inflation rate rises slower according to the former, meaning that, if used, the threshold for qualifying for a variety of federal assistance programs would be raised, affecting millions of low-income Americans.
While the Trump administration’s creativity is boundless when it comes to hamstringing the sick and the poor, the tax cut the president signed in 2017 offered a number of federal benefits to the wealthiest Americans. Though Trump touted the bill as a “historic victory for the American people,” the upper rungs of society appear to have been the main, if not only, beneficiaries. Last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service released an analysis explaining that the tax cut has yet to result in any notable increase in wages or economic growth.