From the Washington Post
Controversial economist probing cost of proposed new air pollution rule
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009
A controversial economist working at the Office of Management and Budget has raised questions about whether a new air pollution rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency would impose too high a cost on coal-fired power plants, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Randall Lutter, who served as the Food and Drug Administration's head of policy under George W. Bush and has battled environmentalists for years on issues such as climate change and smog, has been examining the economic impact of federal rules at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Documents in EPA's public docket show he is now probing whether a rule to cut sulfur dioxide emissions would cost coal-fired utilities too much. The rule -- which was proposed last month and would take effect in June under a court order -- would prohibit short-term spikes of sulfur dioxide, which has been linked to respiratory diseases and premature deaths.
While sulfur dioxide emissions are now measured in 24-hour and annual increments, the new rule would evaluate them every hour, prohibiting sulfur dioxide from exceeding a limit of 50 to 100 parts per billion in one hour.
In a Nov. 19 e-mail to EPA employee Charles Fulcher, Lutter questioned whether power plants, known as EGUs, or electric generation units, could reduce sulfur dioxide emissions without financial pain.
"Are these really instances of zero-cost emissions reductions, or are they instead instances of emissions reductions that should already be in the baseline?" Lutter wrote.
Lutter's role has alarmed environmentalists, who worry about his previous record on air pollution and global warming. In the 1990s, Lutter questioned the merits of imposing tougher smog standards, on the grounds that they could lead to more cases of skin cancer. He wrote an essay in a book called "Painting the White House Green" in which he called Carol Browner -- who now advises President Obama on climate change but pushed for the ozone standards as EPA administrator under President Clinton as "an overzealous grab for more administrative authority," adding EPA's action on them "set a low in the use of bad analysis to support bad environmental policy."
Lutter also wrote a paper backing Bush's decision to opt out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse gases, writing, "By rejecting the doomed Kyoto treaty in the early days of his Administration, he is doing more to protect the climate than his critics realize. His European eco-critics should chill out."
Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said, "Putting Lutter at OMB on environmental issues is like getting Dr. Kevorkian to review health-care reforms."
Lutter did not return a call placed to his White House office. OMB spokesman Kenneth S. Baer said Lutter "is a career civil servant on temporarily detail from FDA" who joined the OIRA staff because "we're stretched."
"Dr. Lutter's personal, political and ideological views are irrelevant to his position as a detailee. He provides technical economic advice" Baer added. "He has no decision-making role or authority."