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Edward Flattau Headshot

The Jobs Fiction

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An ill-conceived centerpiece of the congressional Republicans' strategy for addressing the nation's woeful unemployment rate is to roll back what they call "job killing" major anti-pollution regulations. The reality is that such environmental regulations are not "job killers". Numerous studies indicate they are net long term "job creators" as well as "job preservers".

To add insult to injury, a true "job killer" in the looming economic showdown would be the Republicans' environmental deregulatory plan.

Rolling back environmental regulations would reduce compliance costs, a big favor to corporate polluters who just happen to be a key GOP constituency. But the costs of more stringent environmental regulation rarely exceed two percent of a company's total budget. Hence, the fiscal burden would be unlikely to trigger plant shutdowns, massive layoffs, or flights to more permissive foreign shores.

Past experience has shown that stricter compliance can result in some short term job loss, yet it is a loss more than offset by employment opportunities arising from mandatory cleanup requirements. Facilities may have to be modernized or replaced altogether. New pollution abatement equipment must be manufactured and maintained. There is the incentive to invest in alternative "green" products and open up new markets.

The contention of Republicans in the House of Representatives that pending air pollution regulations will cause significant job loss is a falsehood dressed up as a scare tactic. We heard the same dire predictions from industry prior to the strengthening of the Clean Air Act in 1990 and they never materialized. Somehow, the corporate fraternity managed to innovate, adjust, invest, and end up prospering quite nicely thank you without employment taking the projected hit.

In fact, where job losses have occurred, most of the time they have been traced to mechanization, productivity increases, competitive pressures resulting in corporate downsizing, weak consumer demand, and offshore relocation (prior to regulation imposition).

Environmental regulations preserve existing jobs on an individual basis by helping to keep people healthy enough to show up for work and retain their posts. To comply with the stricter rules, many companies are forced to modernize their plants thereby prolonging the lives of such facilities and the jobs associated with their operation. It is for those very reasons that the act of curtailing the pending stronger air pollution protections would arguably end up as a net "job killer".

James Gattuso of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank extremely influential with House Republicans, may have inadvertently revealed the true motive behind the GOP environmental deregulation crusade.

"The goal," he said, "should not be jobs, but wealth creation."

Wealth for whom?

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