Tuesday, November 08, 2011

EDITORIAL >> Give a hoot, don’t pollute

The way to save and create jobs, according to the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, is to halt those silly government rules that are supposed to protect public health and safety and let workers organize and bargain collectively for their pay and working conditions.

Our own Rep. Tim Griffin this week posted on his Facebook page a list of 10 regulations that he wanted stopped or repealed because he said they killed jobs. Actually, it was not Griffin’s list but one sent out by Majority Leader Eric Cantor for Republican congressmen to tout. The job-killing rules were supplied by the National Association of Manufacturers and the energy industry.

Their memorandum predicts how many jobs will be lost when the rules are implemented. Massive job losses are predicted from restrictions on air and water pollution. Other groups, of course, predict just the opposite, both new jobs and massive public benefits in the way of protected health and safety. It’s an area where everyone is free to make exaggerated claims.

Let’s take a couple of them. Griffin and the Republican phalanx in the House say that an Environmental Protection Administration rule on cleaning up and disposing of coal ash would cause 100,000 people to lose their jobs. They don’t think power companies should have to do a thorough cleanup of coal ash at generation sites or restrict the commercial use of the ash in any way.

By magical coincidence, just as they were issuing their list, a massive pile of coal ash from an old power-plant site in Wisconsin collapsed and spilled into Lake Michigan. The company said it wasn’t very dangerous because, as the Republicans say, coal ash isn’t very poisonous. Coal ash contains 24 known pollutants, including boron, cadmium, arsenic, lead, mercury and dioxins, all deadly.

Griffin wants to stop the EPA from requiring power plants to dispose of coal ash more safely at the 1,300 coal-ash dumps. But Griffin doesn’t have a coal-ash dump in his district—Arkansas’ other three congressmen do—so why should he be worried about the health effects of the ash, the contaminants that are left after the burning of coal?

Other regulations seek to reduce the air contaminants from carbon, nitric acid, mercury and other effluents from power plants and industrial boilers. Industry and congressmen like Griffin believe the health benefits from reducing the poisons in the atmosphere are far outweighed by the extra costs imposed on industries and, perhaps ultimately, on consumers. The EPA and environmental groups claim the opposite, that the cost benefits from a healthier society—reduced medical costs, greater productivity and the like—far outweigh the immediate expense to industry of being better stewards of their environment.

Remember, too, that the National Association of Manufacturers, utilities and the energy industry have been issuing frightening projections for 40 years about the economic costs of protecting the air and water, ever since President Richard Nixon proudly signed the Clean Air and Water Acts. They never came true. But the smog over congested cities diminished, acid rain went away (though not completely), and rivers and harbors were cleaned up and made useful again for recreation and water supplies.

No, halting the enforcement of clean air and water standards or rules to protect consumers and workers won’t create jobs or preserve them. Here in Jacksonville we have special reasons to know the pain when government doesn’t protect us from heedless industrial conduct.