Is smoke okay or is it bad and also Canada’s fault? Those are a few of the weighty ideas Fox News has wrestled with over the last week in attempting to craft a response to the United States’ worst-ever day of wildfire pollution.
Wednesday night, Fox News host Laura Ingraham invited general-purpose reactionary Steve Milloy, whose career includes stints shilling for the tobacco and coal industry, to weigh in. “Look, the air is ugly, it’s unpleasant to breathe and for a lot of people they get anxiety over it,” Milloy said. “But the reality is just that there’s no health risk.”
“There’s nothing in them,” Milloy said of the haze still blanketing the East Coast. “They have no effect. EPA has all this testing on real-life human beings, it shows no effect. This is total junk science.” (Junk Science is also the name of his blog.)
If you look at the actual research, of course, a key problem with wildfire smoke is precisely those tiny particles (PM2.5) small enough to infiltrate lungs and even bloodstreams. As Jeva Lange reported for Heatmap, these can indeed be deadly:
The link between elevated PM2.5 particle concentrations and increased mortality can be dramatic. The aforementioned international study on wildfire-related PM2.5 and daily mortality found that “all-cause mortality” — that is, deaths that aren’t accidents — increases by 1.9%, cardiovascular mortality by 1.7%, and respiratory mortality by 1.9% with every bump of 10 micrograms of pollutant per one cubic meter of air. If New York’s PM2.5 concentration averages, say, 75 micrograms over three days this week (the concentration roughly expected for an average AQI of 150), that would mean people of all ages are 12% more likely to die than they otherwise would be.
Armed with two Masters degrees and a J.D., Milloy has spent much of his career flitting around as a mercenary for whatever death-dealing industry will have him, defending the honor of various killer smogs. Milloy spent years working to amplify tobacco industry-friendly talking points that the harms of cigarette smoke were overblown. That included his time as executive director of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, or TASCC, which at one point sought to “assist Phillip Morris in its targeted state and national efforts” by “questioning the validity of scientific studies.”
Milloy’s defense of tobacco smoke in some cases sounded a lot like his defense of wildfire smoke yesterday. While still getting funding from Philip Morris, Milloy wrote for Fox that secondhand smoke was simply “annoying to many nonsmokers. That is the essence of the controversy and where the debate should lie—the rights of smokers to smoke in public places versus the rights of nonsmokers to be free of tobacco smoke.”
Like fellow travelers who defended cigarettes, Milloy has long since moved on to attacking climate science and policymaking. He’s spent no shortage of time proffering shareholder resolutions to get companies to stop talking about climate change. TASCC got $40,000 from ExxonMobil between 2000 and 2003. The company also gave $50,000 to the Free Enterprise Action Institute, another body registered to Milloy’s Maryland address, Mother Jones reported. He went on to serve on Donald Trump’s transition team, and since 2020 has been a member of the Heartland Institute’s Board of Directors.
When I met him briefly at a Heartland conference in 2019, Milloy lamented that oil companies like ExxonMobil had gotten too scared to fund truth-telling climate skeptics like himself. As he once told The New Yorker, after all, “Wealth is what makes people happy, not pristine air, which you’ll never get.”