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Debunking the Myth

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Getty File
Getty File

Of late, the anti-environmental mantra has been 'environmental regulations kill jobs and damage the economy.'

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation's recent report, titled Debunking the "Job Killer" Myth; How Pollution Limits Encourage Jobs in the Chesapeake Bay Region, examines this claim and finds it to be false.

In fact, Bay pollution reduction could create almost a quarter million jobs, in upgrading sewage treatment plants and reducing polluted runoff alone. The report also highlights specific jobs that have been created -- blue collar workers who are now employed in jobs that will result in cleaner water, restored fish and shell fish populations, and a healthy environment for our children.

The report documents examples of industry crying wolf over new environmental regulations. In the 1970s Henry Ford II warned that clean air and fuel efficiency standards would "shut down" the Ford Motor Company. Thirty-five years later, Ford not only remains in business and makes cleaner cars than it did then, it showed a profit of $6.5 billion in 2010 and ranks number 10 on the Fortune 500 list.

One of the strengths of the American economy is our ability to innovate. Complying with regulations that reduce pollution has spurred advances in technology that actually improve products that we all take for granted every day.

Another example of inflated rhetoric about jobs and regulation was the debate over federal Clean Air Act amendments in 1990. Opponents said it would produce a "quiet death for businesses across the country." Those predictions were not true, and in 2003, President George W. Bush's Office of Management and Budget found that the benefits outweighed the investments. Not only was acid rain pollution reduced, but the legislation produced over $70 billion in human health benefits annually, with a benefit to investment ratio of more than 40 to 1.

The idea that clean air and clean water must be sacrificed for job growth is nothing less than absurd. Just the opposite is true. Regulations to clean the air and water create jobs and stimulate the economy.

Brandon Stevens, an unemployed construction worker, now has a decent job as one of 118 contractors performing an upgrade to the Noman Coles sewage treatment plant in Lorton, VA. He's grateful to have a job and says, "I'm happier than ever, and I'm glad to be making a difference for the environment."

Marcus Irving was also out of work prior to landing a job improving stormwater controls in Montgomery County, MD. About his experience he says, "It was extremely tough, living day to day, basically. But then this job became available, and it was a blessing." Montgomery County plans to spend more than $300 million to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff.

Leroy Walker, a dairy farmer in Pennsylvania, used federal funds and took out a personal loan to make improvements to his farm that will reduce pollution while allowing him to expand his herd. Twenty-five construction jobs were needed to do the work. He said, "I built this new facility for my children and grandchildren. I know we need to take care of the environment, if we want to be here and prosperous in 50 or 100 years."

These are all examples of how environmental regulations put people to work as they clean up local rivers and streams. When I released the Jobs Report, I stood at Constellation Energy's Brandon Shores power plant in Curtis Bay, a plant where Constellation invested almost a billion dollars to reduce pollution.

Why did they do that? They did it because a Maryland law required it. Making that investment created 1,500 construction jobs, as well as 32 permanent positions. According to Constellation it made the power plant more competitive, and it didn't raise the rates customers are charged.

Our report found that across the board, economists agree. Dr. Eban Goodstein, Director of the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College, said, "Virtually all economists who have studied this jobs-environment issue agree... There has simply been no trade-offs between jobs and the environment."

Next time you hear someone say environmental regulations kill jobs and damage the economy, know that it isn't true. A healthy environment and a vibrant economy are two sides of the same coin -- you can't have one without the other.