Front Porch Blog

EPA’s Benefits Greatly Outweigh Costs, According to OMB Report

By Davis Wax
Editorial assistant, Spring/Summer 2013

A new report shows the EPA's rules, especially on air pollution, are saving money and lives.

During their push to abolish, obstruct and stymie the Environmental Protection Agency over the past few years, House Republicans have beleaguered the agency for regulatory measures they consider “job-killing” or “anti-industry,” hoping to revert federal environmental regulation to state control or make protections obsolete altogether.

Those in favor of federal rules have argued that national standards allow for the most effective and consistent protections and, as a result, will lead to reduced costs in health care directly associated with air and water pollution.

A new report from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget makes a clear case for why the country needs the EPA. The report includes an analysis of the costs and benefits of a number of federal regulations over the past decade and shows EPA rules, especially those pertaining to air protection, to be the most costly among all the rules evaluated but also the most beneficial.

The budget office estimates that the EPA’s rules account for 58 to 80 percent of the monetized benefits of all federal rules, but 44 to 54 percent of the total costs. Out of these benefits, close to 99 percent come from rules that seek to improve air quality. The report claims that the large estimated benefits of the EPA rules following the arrival of the Clean Air Act stem mostly from the reduction of a single air pollutant: fine particulate matter.

The mixture of small particles and liquid droplets that comprise fine particulate matter can be the most worrisome air pollutant since these fragments are small enough to pass through the human nose and throat and into the lungs. Particles as small as 2.5 micrometers found in smoke and haze, for example, can form when emissions from power plants react in the atmosphere.

The budget office reported the EPA’s rules were beneficial while keeping a few study-based assumptions in mind. These included that the inhaling of fine particles is “causally associated with premature death at concentrations near those experienced by most Americans on a daily basis” and that no matter the chemical makeup of fine particles, they “are equally potent in causing premature mortality.”

The most beneficial air rules outlined by the report include the Clean Air Fine Particle Implementation Rule of 2007, the Clean Air Interstate Rule of 2005, and the Utility MACT (also known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS) rule of 2011. While these are some of the costliest federal environmental protections for the U.S. economy, their benefits far outweigh the cost. The Utility MACT rule, for instance, currently costs the most of any EPA rule at $8.1 billion, but is also estimated to contribute up to $77 billion in benefits.

It’s evident too that the EPA’s rules are not just about their cost-efficiency. According to a 2011 report by the Economic Policy Institute, the Utility MACT rule alone is projected to prevent 6,800 to 17,000 premature deaths, prevent 11,000 heart attacks, lead to 12,200 fewer hospital and emergency room visits and 225,000 fewer cases of respiratory symptoms. The savings in health costs due to these benefits would be around $55 billion to $146 billion per year (in 2010 dollars).

Not only will Americans be healthier due to cleaner air policies like the MATS rule from the EPA, but contrary to the messages of House Republicans, the implementation of air and water pollution control will actually lead to more employment to help fill the void of energy jobs lost. According to the same Economic Policy Institute report, the MATS will lead to the creation of 28,000 to 158,000 jobs by 2015 even when the loss of industry jobs due to regulatory measures is considered.

In light of this consistently positive data on the benefits of measures taken to protect the environment and human health, it is troublesome that lawmakers are willing to push the corporate interests of the fossil fuel industry over the protection of the nation’s health by limiting the level of toxins power plants can pump into our air and water.

At this point, any dismissal of the EPA’s regulatory benefits as they pertain to environmental and human health is misguided. Any insinuation that the rules are costing more money or jobs than they are worth, can only seem to be intentionally obtrusive in order to make it easier for coal and oil companies to pollute the environment at the expense of the public’s well being.





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