Have we reached the point where air pollution regulations are harming people more than air pollution itself?

That’s the question at the heart of the dispute between the Trump administration and California about the Environmental Protection Agency’s air pollution program known as NAAQS, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

President Trump recently issued an executive memorandum directing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to take steps that will make compliance with the regulations less burdensome.

California objected immediately. Mary Nichols, chair of the state Air Resources Board (CARB) issued a statement saying, “This order caves to a minority of industries who claim Clean Air Act standards are too strict, too costly and too burdensome. The truth is a large body of research shows the Clean Air Act dramatically improves public health, especially among our most vulnerable populations. The consequences of inaction are irresponsible — unhealthy people, shortened lives, and greater demands on our health care system.”

But the truth about CARB’s use of that “large body of research” is very much in question. The agency’s credibility was permanently damaged in 2008, when the board adopted a costly new regulation for diesel truck and bus engines based on an analysis by CARB staffer Hien Tran. His study claimed to document a risk of premature death from airborne fine particulate matter, like dust and soot, which regulators call PM2.5.

It came out later, although some at CARB knew at the time, that Tran’s doctoral degree in statistics was purchased from a diploma mill for $1,000.

The first NAAQS standard for PM2.5 was set in 1997. The EPA took that action after data from the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study (CPS II) was said to show a positive relationship between PM2.5 and total mortality — in other words, a finding that dust and soot in the air caused death.

But this relationship has been credibly questioned. Last year, retired UCLA researcher and epidemiologist James E. Enstrom (genuine doctorate from Stanford) published research demonstrating that there was “no significant relationship between PM2.5 and total mortality.” The 1995 study asserting that PM2.5 causes premature death reached its conclusion through the “selective use” of data, Enstrom showed. More than a year after the publication of his study, no one has found an error in his work.

It is costing a fortune to keep tightening air quality standards. In Southern California, the South Coast Air Quality Management District recently came up with an Air Quality Management Plan that will cost about $1 billion per year, largely to pay for financial incentives for businesses to buy electric vehicles.

Where will the money come from? A range of options is under consideration, most recently a proposal to persuade Sacramento to change state law so the SCAQMD can go directly to the voters to ask for a sales tax increase.

The cost to the trucking industry has raised the cost of everything moved by truck. That 2008 truck and bus regulation based on the work of a fake-credentialed researcher required the installation of not-ready-for-prime-time diesel particulate filters, which cost thousands of dollars, on engines. That’s now the subject of a lawsuit against CARB by the Alliance for California Business.

For years, the alliance has documented fires and mechanical damage caused by the DPFs, and in 2016 CARB finally admitted that the filters are flawed as designed. Yet the costly requirement continues. Next week, oral arguments in the lawsuit will be heard.

The public has a right to know if regulations are ineffective, dangerous or unnecessary.

That’s just common sense. It shouldn’t be controversial to require the best data and the best science before imposing costly regulations or penalties.

CARB says its mission is the “effective reduction of air pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy.”

That’s not inconsistent with what the president wants.

It may never be the start of a beautiful friendship, but for the sake of creating and keeping jobs in California, we really should call off the war.