Milbank: Radiation? Chemicals? No big deal, says the Trump administration.
WASHINGTON – This news makes me feel warm all over. Indeed, I am positively glowing.
New regulations floated by the Environmental Protection Agency are set to increase Americans' exposure to radiation – because, according to scientific theory now in favor with the Trump administration, radiation is not bad for us. It may even be healthy!
The Associated Press reports this week: "The EPA is pursuing rule changes that experts say would weaken the way radiation exposure is regulated, turning to scientific outliers who argue that a bit of radiation damage is actually good for you – like a little bit of sunlight."
In addition to the proposed rule, the AP reports, the EPA edited its online guidelines, which had cited "some cancer risk from any exposure to radiation," to say radiation exposures up to the equivalent of 25 chest X-rays "usually result in no harmful health effects, because radiation below these levels is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk."
The administration, in a news release and in testimony, is relying on University of Massachusetts at Amherst toxicologist Edward Calabrese and others who "argue that smaller exposures of cell-damaging radiation and other carcinogens can serve as stressors that activate the body's repair mechanisms and can make people healthier. They compare it to physical exercise or sunlight."
This radiates reassurance!
Soon, people will be measuring their health regimens not with step counters but with Geiger counters. I'm going to get a whole-body CT scan just to boost my millisieverts. Instead of exercising each day, I'll sleep with a running microwave on my nightstand.
Even better, the same rules will apparently apply to chemicals. We can skip the organic produce and, instead, consume the low-dose pesticides our bodies need to heal themselves. For added longevity, I suggest Raid salad dressing.
As I understand it – and it is possible my brain is impaired by having too few X-rays – the idea being elevated by the Trump administration is that the current model (the LNT, or "linear no-threshold" model) is wrong when it says any radiation exposure is bad. The new approach – let's call it the NBD, or "No Big Deal" model – assumes that stuff that kills us at high doses might be good for us at low doses.
The Trump administration appears to be deploying the NBD model to resolve other problems, such as climate change.
The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney reported last week that the administration has decided it is really no problem to freeze federal fuel-efficiency standards, though this would increase greenhouse-gas emissions. Why? Because, the administration reasons, the planet's temperature is already set to rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century – so a little bit more warming will hardly matter.
The administration allows that "sea-level rise is higher under the proposed action," but "this leads to very small differences in these effects." And if Manhattan is already going to be underwater, let's not quibble over "small differences."
The NBD model, properly applied, could resolve many thorny issues:
For example, the sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh have divided the country. But under the NBD model, there is no problem here: Even accepting as true the allegations of all three of Kavanaugh's accusers, this means Kavanaugh mistreated only 0.000002 percent of all women in America – and there's only a "small difference" between that and zero.
Likewise, there are 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States. Even if special counsel Robert S. Mueller III were to secure prison sentences for everybody who worked on the Trump campaign, it would make such a "small difference" in the prison system that there is no point in having this witch hunt at all.
Similarly, the failing New York Times reports that President Trump received $413 million in current dollars from his father, not the $1 million loan he claimed, and he got much of that fortune because of tax dodges. But using the NBD model, we see that even if Trump paid the entire amount, it would make only a "small difference" in retiring the U.S. debt of $21.6 trillion.
In a broader sense, it makes but a small difference if Trump blows up alliances and falls in love with the North Korean dictator. With that 7-degree increase, we're all going to be underwater soon, anyway.
And if he nukes someone, so much the better. We could all use the radiation.