Dr. Robert Phalen: Who is the EPA’s Latest Advisory Panel Appointee?

EPA admin Scott Pruitt continues to dismantle Obama’s environmental legacy that appointing pro-industry players to key advisory panels.

Dr. Robert Phalen’s life philosophy seems to be summed up in the old adage: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Phalen is one of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt’s recent additions to three scientific advisory panels, and he actually thinks that spewing pollutants into the atmosphere is a good idea because the air in America is “a little too clean for optimum health.”

For anyone with a scorecard, Pruitt’s appointment is just the latest in a string of baffling policy decisions designed to rewire the EPA to better support industries that pollute.

President Barack Obama’s “enduring” environmental legacy has been under siege since Donald Trump’s inauguration. Pruitt, who sued the EPA more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s attorney general, refuses to enforce the Clean Air Act, encourages energy utilities to use heavily-polluting fuels, and shrouds his decisions in a veil of secrecy to dampen dissent. Pruitt has also purged scientists in advisory roles and hired a slew of pro-business lobbyists and industry scientists in their place.

Phelan, despite his position as former former director of the Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory at the University of California Irvine, doesn’t hold to scientific orthodoxy when it comes to pollution. He supports banning the use of lead in gasoline, and working to reverse the hole in the ozone. But he thinks we’ve gone too far in regulating pollution if it puts people out of work. In a 2004 study, he wrote that “neither toxicology studies nor human clinical investigations have identified the components and/or characteristics of [particulate matter] that might be causing the health-effect associations.”

But in the scientific community, that’s a mug’s game. The definitive proof that pollution kills people — just like the definitive proof that smoking causes cancer — can only be attained by subjecting people to dangerous amounts of harmful chemicals, an obviously unethical experiment. The correlational studies that prove that pollution and tobacco smoke are killers couldn’t be more more rigorous.

It would be interesting to get Phelan’s views on what actually killed 8,000 Londoners during the Great Smog of 1952, or why Beijing residents are almost universally afflicted by a disease known as Beijing cough. How would he explain the deaths — possibly as high as 400 residents — during New York’s Thanksgiving Smog event in 1966. The evidence that life expectancy decreases in heavily polluted countries where the air is rife with particulates is incontrovertible. That’s even true of states and cities. On average, New Yorkers live more than half a year longer than Los Angelenos.  

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