Uncertain Benefits Estimates for Reductions in Fine Particle Concentrations

August 29, 2012

Art Fraas
Randall Lutter

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The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) estimates of the benefits of improved air quality, especially from reduced mortality associated with reductions in fine particle concentrations, constitute the largest category of benefits from all federal regulation over the last decade. EPA develops such estimates, however, using an approach little changed since a 2002 report by the National Research Council (NRC), which was critical of EPA's methods and recommended a more comprehensive uncertainty analysis incorporating probability distributions for major sources of uncertainty. Consistent with the NRC's 2002 recommendations, we explore alternative assumptions and probability distributions for the major variables used to calculate the value of mortality benefits. For metropolitan Philadelphia, we show that uncertainty in air quality improvements and in baseline mortality have only modest effects on the distribution of estimated benefits. We analyze the effects of alternative assumptions regarding the value of reducing mortality risk, whether the toxicity is above or below the average for fine particles, and whether there is a threshold in the concentration-response relationship, and show these assumptions all have large effects on the distribution of benefits.