Pawlenty Stands Against Clean Air: “I Will Require Sunsetting of all Federal Regulations”

New proposed EPA regulations for power plant emissions have raised the ire of Republicans. It seems the entire crop of Presidential hopefuls have made slashing the EPA a part of their rhetoric. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty doesn’t seem to like any sort of regulation:

“The Environmental Protection Agency— is now regulating carbon emissions. A policy rejected by Congress — but putting millions of jobs at risk.…  We don’t need the unelected officials at EPA—to do what our elected officials in Congress have rejected. We need less EPA monitoring of our economy. And more monitoring of EPA’s affects on our freedom.  I will require sunsetting of all federal regulations.  Unless specifically sustained by a vote of Congress.  ”

This anti-clean-air policy would allow a minority in the Senate to kill every regulation.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich added: “We should end the Environmental Protection Agency’s war against American oil and gas.”

While this makes good rhetoric on the campaign trail, the analysis doesn’t back up the candidates’ arguments. Consider a recent study from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI):

“The dollar value of the benefits of the major rules finalized or proposed by the EPA so far during the Obama administration exceeds the rules’ costs by an exceptionally wide margin. Health benefits in terms of lives saved and illnesses avoided will be enormous […] 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 claim that EPA regulations will cost jobs is also untrue. A recent report by Ceres and the Political and Economy Research Institute finds that installation of scrubber technologies and development of new, cleaner sources of energy will actually provide more job opportunities:

“New air pollution rules proposed for the electric power sector by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) will provide long-term economic benefits across much of the United States in the form of highly skilled, well paying jobs […] investments driven by the EPA’s two new air quality rules will create nearly 1.5 million jobs, or nearly 300,000 jobs a year on average over the next five years.”

Despite the facts, Republicans have taken a decidedly anti-regulation stance on energy and environmental issues. So if such a large group of political leaders believe regulation is a bad thing, it begs the question: Why do we have regulations in the first place?

Regulations are meant to solve market failures – in this case, the emissions that cause local and global environmental harm. Despite the loud calls for “sunsetting regulations” from political leaders, regulations are an extraordinarily important part of keeping society clean and healthy. From the EPA:

We sometimes have the misconception that attempts to regulate air pollution in the United States began within the last few decades. In fact, air pollution laws of various types have existed for at least a century. What is new is the widespread realization by the public that air pollution is a serious health threat and the leading role the federal government has taken in controlling air pollution. Out of these concerns and initiatives have come the creation of the most comprehensive air pollution control laws in the history of the United States.

One of the most prominent pieces of results-based environmental regulation, the GOP-backed acid rain cap-and-trade system, was overwhelmingly successful. According to a 2010 EPA progress report:

An analysis estimates annual public health benefits of the program in 2010 alone at more than $120 billion, about 40 times the estimated cost. Power plants have decreased emissions of SO2, a precursor to acid rain, to 5.7 million tons in 2009, a 67 percent decrease from 1980 levels and a 64 percent decrease from 1990 levels.

And did it harm the economy? No. It did exactly the opposite – GDP continued to climb while sulfur dioxide emissions dropped.  [Graphs at top of page and below from the Environmental Defense Fund with data from the Department of Energy and the EPA.]

And the cost of the program was far lower than expected:

History has shown the importance and success of “results-based” regulation for air and water pollution. Although we still see tens of thousands of lives impacted by particulates and heavy metals from dirty power plants,   especially those with respiratory ailments like asthma, our air has gotten much cleaner through the century because of successful regulations. Despite the dramatic claims from industry, the outcome from regulation is overwhelmingly positive for the environment and society.

So before Pawlenty and other Republican candidates call for “sunsetting” regulations, perhaps they should take a look around and recognize the real benefits that environmental standards have created for the U.S.

— Raj Salhotra with Stephen Lacey

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