Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, June 18, 2011 5:10 pm

Mercury retrograde

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 5:10 pm
Tags: , , ,

It is common for political conservatives to complain that regulations in general, and environmental regulations in particular, are a drag on the economy. And it is common for the national news media to accept this complaint as a given, particularly when, as now, it’s a Democratic president who is trying to do his legal duty by enforcing regulation of such environmental toxins as mercury.

But is it true? Surprise! It isn’t. At least, environmental regulations either proposed or finalized by the Obama administration aren’t. Says who? Says the Economic Policy Institute, which analyzed them in detail and came to two important conclusions:

  • The total effect of such regulations on the economy in general and on employment in particular, one way or the other, is minuscule. “Fears that these rules together will deter economic progress,” study author Isaac Shapiro writes, “are unjustified.”
  • To the extent that that effect can be reliably calculated or at least estimated, the costs of such regulation are far outweighed by the benefits:

Expressed in 2010 dollars:

• 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 combined annual benefits from four proposed rules examined here exceed their costs by $160 billion to $440 billion a year. The benefit/cost ratio ranges from 12-to-1 to 32-to-1.

Industry also likes to argue that any kind of regulation creates “uncertainty” and that that uncertainty hampers job creation. But as David Roberts at Grist points out:

… the rules EPA is rolling out now have been brewing for over a decade. Industry has known mercury and other toxics are going to be regulated for a looong time — Bush spent a decade [well, eight years — Lex] trying (and failing) to do it.

What’s causing the unpredictability is the scorched-earth warfare polluting industries have waged on the rules. That’s what causes the endless court cases, delays, and legislative skirmishes. Based on their behavior, if not their words, it appears polluters prefer uncertainty to, y’know, rules.

This is not, of course, what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Wall Street Journal editorial page or Fox News will tell you. But what they’re telling you actually means this: They expect you to pay both the financial price and the price of your health to protect their profits, while not doing anything meaningful to create new jobs. Even Adam Smith thought that approach was toxic.

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