The Lung Thing, The Brain Thing

BY ON November 18, 2011

Dominique BrowningIt was with a sickened heart that I read the long front page article in the New York Times, Re-election Strategy is Tied to a Shift on Smog.” The piece walks through the process by which President Obama suddenly withdrew one of the most important pollution regulations of his administration, one that was meant to set safer limits on the ozone pollution that causes smog. The article outlines an aggressive campaign on the part of trade groups like the American Petroleum Institute and other industry lobbyists–who were successful in killing the regulation, and blind-siding Administrator Lisa Jackson in the process.

The chief lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce described Administrator Jackson’s presentation on why new ozone rules were so important: “the lung thing, the asthma thing, the kids’ health thing.” Right. Those “things” happen to be human beings–it was a revealing moment, showing us how callous pro-polluters can be about the costs of pollution to human life.

In another meeting at the White House, a pulmonologist at Duke university laid out the health impacts of pollution, talking about the statistics on deaths associated with higher ozone levels. She emphasized the damage smog does to the lungs of even healthy young children.

William Daley, the President’s Chief of Staff, listened politely, then asked, “What are the health impacts of unemployment?” It was a question right out of the industry playbook.

Funny you should ask, Mr. Daley. Because by coincidence, this week’s Washington Post ran an excellent article about the impacts of regulations on employment–and painted a very different picture from the dire job-killing predictions of industry. Here are some choice quotes:

“Some jobs are lost. Others are created. In the end, say economists who have studied this question, the overall impact on employment is minimal.”

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that very few layoffs are caused principally by tougher rules.”

Even Mike Morris, the Chief Executive of AEP, one of the country’s biggest coal-based utilities, admits that installing scrubbers to control toxins coming out of  power plants, would create jobs.

“We have to hire plumbers, electricians, painters, folks who do that kind of work when you retrofit a plant,” Morris said. “Jobs are created in the process — no question about that.”

Ralph Izzo, chief executive of the New Jersey utility PSE&G, said, “… installing scrubbers at two of his company’s coal plants created 1,600 jobs for two years, plus 24 permanent ones.”

So it turns out that though the polluters have been successful at linking the words “job-killing” with “regulations,” it isn’t true.

Now supporters of clean air must begin talking about “job-creating regulations.”

Oh, and–let’s not forget the lung thing, the brain thing–our beloved children’s health thing.


TOPICS: Asthma, Coal, Economics, Politics, Pollution