Cleaning Up Mercury and Coal Ash is Good for the Economy

BY ON June 8, 2011

This piece was originally posted at Think Progress.

In the lead up to the 2012 election, Republicans have stepped up their attacks on environmental regulations – saying that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, monitor coal ash, and limit ozone are “job killers.” But as Ciera Crawley writes, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute finds just the opposite.

In light of recent attacks that new EPA standards would damage the economy and lower employment, the Economic Policy Institute released a report last week finding that new and proposed rules – which include limits oRally against coal pollutionn sulfur dioxide, mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants – will not harm the economy.

The study’s top findings include:

  • The combined annual benefits from all final rules exceed their costs by $32 billion to $142 billion a year. The benefit/cost ratio ranges from 4-to-1 to 22-to-1.
  • The combined annual benefits from four proposed rules exceed their costs by $160 billion to $440 billion a year. The benefit/cost ratio ranges from 12-to-1 to 32-to-1.

Many opponents are claiming that new EPA regulations (air toxics, greenhouse gas emissions, vehicle efficiency and water cooling) will lead to job losses. On this matter, the EPI found:

Economy-wide studies do not find that regulations cause a significant decline in employment, nor, generally, do studies at the industry level.


The benefits from these regulations far outweigh the costs of establishing them. EPI also found that the cost to carry out these rules would be “a tiny sliver” of the economy, and would not cause economy-wide negative impacts:

One frequent criticism made by opponents of EPA rules advanced under the Obama administration is that their cumulative impact will be immensely damaging to the economy and employment.

A straightforward way to place these claims in some context is to compare the costs of the EPA rules with the size of the economy. Are these rules so costly that they plausibly will have a dominant or significant effect on economic progress? The answer to this question is “no,” as will be shown. This does not mean that the effects of particular regulations on particular industries and groups of workers should be ignored; potential effects and ways to respond to them deserve careful consideration. But the size of the potential compliance costs created by EPA rulemaking under the Obama administration to date is not a significant factor in U.S. economic performance overall.

The combined costs of the rules finalized by the Obama administration’s EPA would amount to less than 0.1% of the economy.

When looking at the minimal economic impact and the net gains in health and productivity, claims that EPA regulations will ruin the economy do not hold up. Still, the EPA is on the defensive due to aggressive attacks from Republican lawmakers:

EPA officials appear baffled by this barrage of hostility. All the regulations they are promulgating, they point out, are based on laws passed by Congress, usually on a bipartisan basis. The Clean Air Act, for example, which is the basis of the EPA’s proposed regulation of greenhouse gases, was signed by Richard Nixon, and strengthened with the support of George Bush senior, both Republicans. The agency, they say, already conducts cost-benefit analyses of all important regulations, in addition to submitting them for expert review and public comment. Every dollar spent on pollution controls mandated by the Clean Air Act, including the ozone restrictions that Mr Barton is complaining about, will bring $30 in benefits to public health, the EPA reckons.

According to the EPA, its proposed mercury and air toxics power plant rule will, every year, work to:

“Prevent serious illnesses and health problems for thousands of Americans, including: up to 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 120,000 asthma attacks, 12,200 hospital and emergency room visits, 4,500 cases of chronic bronchitis, and 5.1 million restricted activity days.”

The Center for American Progress Action Fund has launched a campaign (also available in Spanish) encouraging the public to submit comments to the EPA urging implementation of its proposed power plant air toxic rules. The EPA needs to be allowed to do its job to protect the health and safety of the American people.  Click here to take action now.

— Ciera Crawley

TOPICS: Activism, Asthma, Coal, Economics, Environment, Mercury Poisoning, Politics, Pollution