Friday, September 2, 2011

President Obama concedes the wrong point in pollution regulation

© 2011 Joshua Stark

President Obama has pulled back from his earlier proposal to put stricter limits on ground-level ozone, a major pollutant and cause of asthma attacks and deaths, reports the Associated Press.

By this act, the President has conceded to opponents the very idea that pollution regulations are job killers, and opened the door to a flood of rollbacks, and the subsequent pollution increases that will come with them.

Hard choices have to be made, and the President has ducked a big one right here.  Sadly, he has done it by buying into the notion that pollution control is a net loss to our economy, thus legitimizing the idea, even though, under our current circumstances, it almost never has merit. 

In our dirtiest places, Americans live like 3rd World countries.  California's Central Valley has thousands of Americans who can't even drink their own tap water, and one-fifth of their children have asthma (for a thorough look at the impacts of asthma and ozone on the Valley, click here).

The regulation that the President has backed off would have direct impacts on asthma rates in places like the Central Valley, improving the quality of life for millions of Americans, particularly the poor.  But, what would be the economic impact?

Well, in 1997 the EPA estimated that asthma cost the U.S. between $9 and $11 billion (today, that would be $12.5 to %15 billion).  And these rates don't calculate lost productivity due to parents' worries over a hospitalized child, stress from losing a child, young people's inability to perform work throughout their life due to their impaired physiques and oxygen loss during growth.

Additionally, these calculations don't take into account the value of individual dollars - a gaping intellectual hole when calculating economic impacts.  Simply put, one dollar is worth more in a poor person's hands than it is in a rich person's hands, especially now.  A poor person, when getting a dollar, will spend that dollar, because it is more valuable turned into food than it is sitting in a bank.  A rich person may spend that dollar, or they may save it, because its value as a saved dollar may be bigger than its value as one more hamburger.

Right now, our economic problem is in large part due to our low total demand for goods and services because we can't afford them, because there isn't enough circulating money.  Money isn't circulating because we have too many people out of work, unable to afford things.

We are in the beginning stages of a vicious cycle, economically-speaking, and this cycle has nothing to do with our pollution.  But, regulating our pollution can go a long way toward ending this cycle and getting us out of our current slump.  Robust pollution regulation can lead to direct job growth in the testing and regulating industries (often public-private partnerships), and it will lead to increased productivity among those who would see improved health.  The additional demand from this growth of more valuable dollars would lead to increased supply to meet that demand, pushing up employment.

Make no mistake, companies who fight these regulations want to pollute.  If they didn't want to pollute, they would not care about the regulation.  They do not care about total demand, they do not care about social health improvements.  The individuals who work in these companies might care, but officially and professionally, they don't make their decisions based on what is good for the nation; they cannot, because the pressures of their fiduciary duties and their pressures to see quarterly profits are too great.

Economic reasons aren't the only reasons for robust pollution controls, and they shouldn't even be the first reasons.  But, there are real economic benefits to robust pollution control, and the President, by ignoring these, has lost sight of the good of the nation and has given over to ideas that will further stunt our growth, economically and otherwise.

1 comment:

westwood said...

Well, I'd say he's a bit worried about his keeping his job rather than following what he likely truly believes in.

Here's to hoping he gets another term so he has the freedom to take more strict climate action.