EPA’s Regulations Are Far Deadlier Than Its Toxic Spill

Published August 31, 2015

The toxic spill from the Gold King Mine into the Animas River caused by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ham-fisted attempt to clean up the mine justifiably grabbed headlines. EPA says the cleanup will cost millions, potentially hundreds of millions over time, because the toxins that settled in the stream and riverbeds will be stirred up repeatedly in the future due to in-stream and streamside activities and heavy runoff from storms or melting snow.

Hundreds of millions if not billions more will be spent compensating those harmed by the spill and to cleanse the tens of thousands of additional mines EPA says needs remediation.

As serious as the harms from the Gold King Mine spill will be, the costs in terms of illness and lost lives pale in comparison to the damage done by the various regulations EPA has imposed on the economy under President Barack Obama. Yet, environmentalists, the media, and various public health officials continue to praise these rules.

Although EPA claims rules cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and mercury will save lives, the regulations will almost certainly cost more lives than they save, and that is according to the government’s own number crunchers.

Poverty is by far the biggest killer. Nations and regions lacking inexpensive and reliable energy, readily available health care, and abundant, nutritious food suffer more premature deaths, have higher infant mortality and lower disease survival rates, and have shorter lifespans, compared to wealthier nations and people. This is an undisputed fact.

EPA’s regulations ignore the link between wealth and health. Carbon dioxide is a nontoxic, naturally occurring gas posing no threat at all to human health at present or reasonably expected future levels. Mercury is a potentially lethal toxin, and exposure at sufficiently high levels can cause serious harm or even death, but at current levels in the United States it poses minimal or no risk of harm.

EPA regulations limiting mercury and other air toxins were recently tossed out by the U.S. Supreme Court. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia stated, “It is not rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits.”

Various estimates showed the mercury rule would produce just $4 million to $6 million in health benefits at a cost of more than $9.6 billion.

To put this in perspective, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has estimated every $7.5 million to $12 million in regulatory costs imposed on the economy results in a life lost. By that accounting, while failing to save even a single life, the mercury regulations could result in between 800 and 1,250 premature deaths.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) is even deadlier. It aims at cutting overall emissions of carbon dioxide from the nation’s power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA, with reason to paint the benefits of its plan in the best light possible, estimates CPP will produce $155 billion in cumulative benefits through 2030. By comparison, the Energy Information Administration has pegged the cumulative costs of the rule through 2030 at $1.23 trillion in lost GDP (in 2014 dollars).

EPA estimates CPP would result in avoidance of 200 premature deaths in 2020, 1,900 in 2025, and 3,600 in 2030. Assuming a linear trend over the compliance period, CPP could prevent approximately 21,000 total premature deaths through 2030. Although 21,000 premature deaths is no small number, it is dwarfed by the 102,500 to 164,000 early deaths CPP is expected to cause if the OMB is right about the costs.

When government regulations raise energy costs, it increases unemployment, decreases disposable income, and reduces the number of people covered by health insurance, and each of these results kills people. EPA should take a regulatory Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm!”