By Michael D. Smart, ‘97
IN a unanimous ruling that is being hailed as one of the most important environmental and business decisions in decades, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld stringent air quality standards that are based on two landmark environmental health studies by a Brigham Young University professor.
The studies, conducted in the mid-1990s by BYU professor of economics C. Arden Pope, ’78, and researchers at Harvard and the American Cancer Society, showed that higher levels of tiny particles (PM 2.5) in the air are associated with increased mortality rates. One of the projects looked at more than 500,000 people in 151 cities and noted 17 percent more deaths in the most-polluted cities.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used those findings in 1997 to support new standards that limited the amount of fine particles industries can emit into the atmosphere. Those standards and the research behind them came under attack by industry groups that alleged the researchers’ methodologies were flawed and their findings inaccurate.
The ensuing wrangling between industry groups and the EPA was settled when the Court ruled that the federal Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to set air-quality standards, based on sound science, to protect public health without regard to their cost to businesses.
“Although I was confident in our work and knew it had already been published in peer-reviewed journals, it’s still exciting to see it hold up under intense and professional scrutiny,” says Pope. “Hopefully, this ruling will allow the EPA and industry to work together to improve air quality in the U.S.”
Pope is currently researching the correlation between air pollution and heart problems.