Trump’s Reckless and Dangerous Attack on the EPA

Trump’s Reckless and Dangerous Attack on the EPA January 29, 2017

How do you destroy one of the most important federal agencies? By appointing one of its enemies to lead it and by undermining its ability to do its job. That’s what Trump is doing to the EPA, promising to do away with 75% of its regulations. The results will be bad.

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Trump ran on a pledge to kill regulations, and focused much of his wrath on EPA climate rules such as the Clean Power Plan. Upon assuming office, he put in place a “freeze” on all federal regulations; told business leaders “we’re going to be cutting regulation massively” by 75 percent or “maybe more”; and told car company executives that environmental regulations are “out of control.”

Yet, contrary to popular myth, regulations such as clean air and water standards do not have a net negative impact on job growth. Indeed, studies have found that the exact type of regulations Trump is targeting actually spur innovation and competitiveness.

The multiple economic benefits of regulations are well documented. First, EPA regulations make companies invest money to reduce some of the damage that results from their operation— such as polluting the air or water. That investment directly creates jobs, which generally cancel out any jobs lost by the cost imposed on the polluters.

Just look at the CAFE standards, that have raised the minimum gas mileage for cars and trucks. The auto companies howl and cry every time they’re raised, but they always meet those standards with room to spare. They do it by improving engine technology, like Ford’s Ecoboost engine, which can derive as much power from four cylinders as they used to be able to get from six cylinders. And by the introduction of more hybrids, which bring down the average gasoline usage of multiple classes of cars.

Second, the reduction in harm itself boosts growth — cleaner air, for instance, means fewer sick days lost to asthma or cardiopulmonary illness.

EPA particulate regulations (PM2.5) alone are now saving some 200,000 lives a year. And the benefits to the economy of these health improvements are enormous. The loss in economic output due to restricted activity, sickness, and death is enormous.

Indeed, the 2016 “Draft Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations” by the Office of Management and Budget found that over the previous 10 years, EPA’s air regulations cost the economy $41 to $48 billion (in 2014$) while providing benefits worth $172 to $668 billion.

The same report found that Energy Department efficiency standards — which Trump has also frozen — cost the economy $7.5 to $10.6 billion but provided $19 to $32.6 billion in savings. And it found that the joint EPA and Transportation Department “rules pertaining to the control of greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources and improved vehicle fuel economy” had costs of $9.5 to $18 billion and benefits worth $35 to $64 billion.

This is where they scream about how regulation increases prices. But that is precisely what it is designed to do, because there is a disconnect between the price of heavily polluting technology and the true cost of that technology. The price of energy generated by fossil fuels does not include the true cost to society in a wide range of environmental harms. The price does not pay for the cleanup of oil spills, coal ash spills or everyday pollution of the air and water. And it doesn’t pay for the enormous damage to our health and the resulting costs to society, or the damages of global warming.

There are two ways to deal with that: First, you can use taxes to raise money from that production and use that money for cleanup and healthcare spending on its victims. Second, you can pass regulations to prevent those things from happening by requiring scrubbers and better storage and transportation (the cost of which would then be passed on, so the price comes closer to the actual cost). The latter is the better way to do it because it prevents a lot of those harms rather than just trying to help the victims of those harms.

Corporations have a vested interest in avoiding either of those options and they spend an extraordinary amount of money trying to stop their passage or at least weaken them. The funny thing is that the Republicans love to talk about how much they hate “special interests” and they consider environmentalists to be a “special interest” — but not the companies that do the polluting. But it isn’t environmentalists who spend billions on lobbying and bribing and they aren’t the ones making mind-blowing profits from polluting. That’s the real special interest, and one that must be reined in for the good of humanity.

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