Clean Air versus Jobs?

Jacob Schor ND, FABNO

September 29, 2011



Is it really about jobs?


Mark Jaffe’s article in the September 29, 2011 issue of the Denver Post is the final straw in the “I can’t understand what they are talking about” process.


Jaffe wrote about a Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] hearing held here in Denver over proposed federal air-pollution controls for oil and gas operations. The EPA wants to add rules that will require companies drilling for oil and gas to make greater efforts to reduce leakage from their pumps, storage tanks and processing plants.  These maintenance efforts would use existing technology and would cut emissions of volatile organic compounds by about 25%.  This would reduce the current industry emissions into our air and water by about 540,000 tons per year.  Initial implementation of these rules would cost about $754 million.   This cost would be quickly recouped in a year by the value of the captured natural gas that is currently lost.  Industry lobbyists argue that these added costs would be staggering and do not want the EPA to implement these rules. 


The argument that the oil and gas industry brings to the table is that these regulations will cost jobs.  This phrase, “Costing jobs,” trumps all other arguments and may win out.  I would think that implementing these rules would create jobs because finding and repairing leaks sounds as if it would be labor intensive.  Though the EPA’s proposed drilling rules would seem to make great sense, some people see this differently.



As I’m writing this newsletter, I read online that a few hours ago the House of Representatives in Washington voted to stop the EPA’s  Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which curbs power plant smog and soot pollution that crosses state lines.


I have trouble understanding how rules like this will hurt the economy or reduce jobs.  It always seems to me that these rules will require power plants to employ more workers.  This may increase the cost of generating power.  Increased costs get passed on to consumers like me.  As the cost of heating my home and office go up, it becomes financially wiser for me to invest  money to reduce those costs.  For example, last year rising home heating costs inspired Rena and I to replace the one hundred year old furnace in our basement with a new 98% efficient one.  For a seemingly endless few weeks I employed a crew of plumbers who were thoroughly challenged by our old house.  If the cost of heating our office goes up any more, I will be inspired to replace the old single pane windows with energy efficient ones.  If anything,  new regulations that increase my cost of energy force me to create jobs.



Back to the EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule in particular. This rule would regulate emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power plants, which often travel hundreds of miles.  The Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has called the EPA's decision ‘another example of heavy-handed and misguided action from Washington DC, that threatens Texas jobs and families and puts at risk the reliable and affordable electricity our state needs to succeed.” [New Scientist. “US environment regulations swamped by tide of failures.” 21 September 2011. # 2831]


An EPA analysis tells us that implementation of these Cross-State rules would prevent 468,000 premature deaths, nonfatal heart attacks and cases of asthma and acute bronchitis a year. This would save something like $120 to $280 billion a year in health care costs. 

As a side bar we should note that the benefits of Environmental Protection Agency regulations tend to outweigh the costs of implementation.  According to a report by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released in July, the 32 major EPA rules issued over the last ten years have lead to benefits of between $82 billion and $551 billion, while the costs of implementation are cost only between $23 billion to $29 billion.


But those generalities aside, if implementation of this Cross State air pollution rule will save us $120-280 billion per year by decreasing illness, perhaps this is what will cost jobs.  If less people get sick from air pollution and spend less money on healthcare, are we going to lose healthcare jobs?  Are doctors and nurses going to be laid off for lack of sick people?  Will undertakers be collecting unemployment? 



Even if true that implementing these EPA regulations would reduce healthcare expenditures to the degree we would lay off healthcare workers, would it not still be worthwhile?  Are jobs worth more than public health?  If you think yes, then should we purposefully infect people?   Should we reduce food safety regulations so more people would be hospitalized with food borne infections?   Should we reduce our water quality standards so that infectious disease could spread through our drinking water?


Is it only about jobs?