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EPA Rules: Show Me the Money

05/22/2013 11:11 am ET | Updated Jul 22, 2013
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A new U.S. government report shows that the benefits of government regulations substantially outweigh the costs. Looking at all federal regulators, the report found that health and environmental protections created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are the most cost effective of any federal department.

How successful are EPA rules? The report found that for every dollar we spend on environmental and health protections, we get back ten dollars in health, environmental, and economic benefits that add up to make all of our lives richer.

By far the largest factor making up this EPA success is from rules the agency has created to reduce health threats from air pollution. Over ten years, the report shows, we've seen about a half a trillion dollars of benefits by reducing air pollution. The health benefits of reducing air pollution are easy to see, but the economic benefits are less obvious. But consider, for example, pollution from coal-fired power plants. Air pollution from coal is associated with respiratory disease, heart attacks, infections and other serious illnesses. Preventing pollution results in healthier, more productive communities, with people who are making and spending money rather than being sick and dying.

As Jeff Spross points out on ThinkProgress, this is hardly the first report to show benefits from environmental health rules. Spross notes a 2011 Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study finding that job creation from new rules to curb mercury pollution would outweigh job losses, and that EPA rules overall brought benefits worth as much as $95 billion annually (this from an agency with an annual budget of less than $10 billion). He also notes that the Chesapeake Bay clean-up is projected to create 35 times more jobs than the Keystone XL pipeline, and that after EPA created rules on mountaintop mining, coal industry jobs actually increased.

Why do industries complain about the costs of environmental rules? The coal industry, for example, resists all efforts to create stronger rules to stop air pollution from their dirty coal-fired power plants because making plants safer will cost them money. Speaking of this example, Harvard Professor Joe Aldy told NPR's Living on Earth that those who defend corporate pollution "... put so much more weight on those costs and very little weight on the fact that especially the elderly, children and those with bad respiratory and cardiovascular health will benefit from having longer healthier lives as a result of that regulation."

What's been the Republican response? They were blocking Gina McCarthy's nomination to head the EPA, and questioning why we need an environmental agency that imposes so many costly regulations.