Environmental Extremists and Lost Jobs

Published July 22, 2017

Rep. John Duncan’s recent column, How Environmentalists Destroy Small Towns,received a torrent of comments, mostly opposed to the assertions in his title. As a long time analyst of EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) actions with many articles on the subject at Reason.com, I’d like to redress some of their comments and questions, namely specific examples of extreme environmentalists’ excesses.

Those of us steeped in scientists’ and economists’ questions and challenges to Obama’s EPA job destruction can easily forget that most Americans, especially in large cities, are unaware—perhaps blissfully—of such controversies. Instead they are constantly exposed to government and big media disinformation. I wrote earlier of a typical example, a New York Times headline stating that rising sea levels were causing a decline in seaside property values. Deep in the article’s text, however, one learns that it was the decline in government subsidies for waterfront property insurance that was causing value declines.

As terrorism threats grew I became especially alarmed at the EPA’s false information about the danger of nuclear radiation at tiny, infinitesimal levels. They would have meant a panic evacuation of half a city for a “dirty bomb” which really would only contaminate a few dozen yards in the direction of a blast. My writings and those at Forbes.com finally helped trigger a Government Accounting Office order to EPA to correct its threat levels. At Fukushima some 1,600 people died from the panicked Japanese government evacuation following old EPA guidelines.  Actual deaths from radiation even including all the emergency workers were “zero.”

My November, 2010 article Job Killing Environmentalists –How EPA Cripples the American Economy details specifically eight areas of the kind of damage Rep. Duncan referred to in his article. Here are a few :

— Soot emissions from factory boilers. In a rare case the EPA stepped back from, after an outcry from industry, from its original proposal affecting 200,000 boilers and incinerators. The new rules will only cost industry (those which don’t shut down) some $20 billion to comply.

— Lead paint removal, when repairing or re-painting window frames, caused many contractors to refuse to work on older, inner city houses built before 1979. The EPA’s ruinous fines of $37,000 per day are terrifying to any small contractor. They were used freely by EPA inspectors to force persons and companies to obey them instantaneously without daring to appeal to their supervisor, much less to the courts.

— Ground Level Ozone. AutoBlog reports that the EPA has asked the U.S. government to enact draconian new smog regulations for ground-level ozone. The request to cut levels to .006 to .007 parts per million comes less than two years after standards were set at .0075 particles of pollutants per one million. As AutoBlog notes, “That doesn’t sound like a very big change, but the New York Times reports that the agency quotes the price tag of such a change at between $19 billion and $100 billion per year by 2020.”

I’ve also written of EPA’s enforcement of stringent clean air rules over the Arctic Ocean, which delayed Shell’s drilling for a year and contributed to its final abandonment of drilling after spending billions.

The New York Times recently reported that while large corporations’ support the Paris Agreementfrom which President Trump withdrew, most smaller businesses supported Trump’s action. The newspaper described them as fearing the government agencies’ enforcement of Obama’s pledges to comply.

Another common theme to emerge from the comments about Duncan’s article is an all or nothing choice between regulations or a dirty environment. That’s not so. Our environment has already been cleaned up tremendously to good effect. No one disagrees. The question rather is that newer measurement technology can result in incredible costs to eliminate the last parts per billion. The human body has natural resistance to minimal poison or contamination of almost anything. Yet the cost of cleaning up the last 10 percent of a contaminant can cost 10 times what it cost to remove the original 90 percent. It may be a good idea to remove further amounts of contamination, but the government should be very sure of the science before ordering hundreds of billions of dollars of costs, money which could better go for healthcare or raising Americans’ standard of living.

Instead, EPA “science” follows a very questionable scientific method called “linear no-threshold analysis.” It means that there are no limits at all on cleaning up everything to the nth degree.  Under this rationale, if smoking 60 cigarettes per day (3 packs) will cause lung cancer, than out of 60 persons smoking one cigarette per day, one will get lung cancer. The theory is so far out of whack that the EPA won’t state any limits for a “safe” amount of lead in drinking water. It used to post a limit of 40 parts per billion, but USA Today reported that even this was removed from its website. Under linear no-threshold even one part per billion would mean the sickness of one person per billion human beings.

Other environmentalists’ extremes, such as shutting down or preventing new oil or gas pipelines are obviously another example of job destruction. Others want to shut down or prevent the fracking of oil wells, an incredible new invention which has made America energy independent and created hundreds of thousands of jobs in new factories such as petrochemicals which come from cheap natural gas or, now, its growing exports. One commenter to Duncan’s article remembered the shutting down of American timber exports to Asia from the Northwest lumber companies, putting them (with lots of well paying jobs) out of business.

Rep. Duncan’s article was right-on and I hope our readers will look for alternative sources of information about the progress that realistic environmentalists bring about compared to their extremist brethren’s luddite views and actions.

[First published at American Conservative.]