Sierra Club argues for clean air, water regulations

Posted by Christine, August 20, 2011

Andrew Christie, director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club in San Luis Obispo, California, writes in The Tribune:

On Aug. 5, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on the number of new jobs created in July, a number which did not significantly reduce the level of national unemployment. In response, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) seized the occasion to expound on a favorite theme: the idea that protecting the environment kills jobs.

“Millions of American jobs are in jeopardy because of the costly rules proposed or under development by the EPA,” he said, as reported in that day’s edition of The Hill. “If this administration is serious about job creation and not just paying lip service, it should begin by putting the brakes on this regulatory train wreck.”

What the nation needs, Upton said, eagerly seconded by Speaker of the House John Boehner, is “regulatory relief.”

“Regulatory relief” is a beloved, deeply held conservative ideal and will likely remain so no matter how many facts are produced for the edification of representatives Upton and Boehner and their ideological colleagues showing that they are simply wrong.

“Wrong” in this case does not mean slightly off the mark. The idea that “regulatory relief” is what the nation needs — that the economy is suffering under the yoke of environmental regulations and that it can’t recover unless it is freed of such regulations — is a false paradigm, a model of thinking that is contrary to reality.

One might assume that the nearly $100,000 in contributions that Rep. Upton received from the mining and electric power industries in the first six months of 2011 may have helped to model his thinking on this matter. The facts, a good selection of which can be read in a 2010 EPA report titled “The Clean Air Act: Highlights of the First 40 Years,” greatly undercut his position. Here are a few relevant passages:

“The Clean Air Act is one of the reasons for the dramatic growth since the early 1970s in the U.S. environmental technologies industry. By 2007 the industry was generating approximately $282 billion in revenues, producing $40 billion in exports, and supporting 1.6 million jobs. … When fully implemented in 2030, EPA’s vehicle and fuel rules will produce $186 billion in air quality and health benefits, with only $11 billion in costs, a nearly 16-to-1 benefit/cost ratio. Certain rules have been found to be even more cost-effective, including EPA’s Non-road Diesel Tier 4 rule, which boasts a 40-to-1 benefit ratio.”

Or in other words, as The MIT Project on Environmental Politics & Policy found: “The money spent by complying firms represents sales and income to environmental product/service providers, who are private businesses. New demand spurs new products and new services.” That study concluded: “The all out assault on federal and state environmental statutes now under way is unwarranted and unwise. … Gutting environmental statutes merely prolongs public subsidization of inefficient uncompetitive businesses.”

The particular reason why you are hearing the call for “regulatory relief” at this particular moment is HR 2584, the 2012 Interior Appropriations bill, now before Congress. House Republicans have attached an unprecedented number of extreme anti-environmental riders to the bill — slashing funding for the critically important Land and Water Conservation Fund, putting uranium mines next to the Grand Canyon and seeking in every way possible to keep the EPA from doing its job, including barring it from considering the protection of human health and the environment when issuing permits for offshore oil drilling.

The 2012 Interior Appropriations bill dwells in a dark, drafty hall of history dedicated to The Power of Bad Ideas. You can help lock it in the dungeon and make sure it doesn’t escape by searching “Defend America’s legacy” online and joining the Sierra Club in demanding that Congress pass the bill cleansed of its anti-environmental amendments.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, aware of how bad the bad ideas are that have produced the toxic amendments to the bill, has been fighting them accordingly. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, held fast in the grip of the false paradigm, still needs to get the word. Tribune readers can help him out by calling his office at 461-1034 (North County) or 549-0390 (South County) to let him know that, in fact, environmental protections are not what’s killing the economy; they are what’s keeping it alive. Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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