Subscribe to our newsletters & stay updated
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is no good for business. It can be burdensome and expensive for business owners to comply with their regulations. The EPA is sometimes criticized as a corrupt, job-killing organization. Is there truth to these statements? What should the EPA do?
In 1969, Time published a cover story that showed the Cuyahoga River, which flows through Cleveland, in flames. This was nationally recognized as a landmark fight between big industry and environmentalists. For Cleveland locals, it was the latest of at least a dozen recorded instances that the river caught fire.
If you have lived in Cleveland in the last 150 years, you may have a complicated view of John D. Rockefeller, co-founder of the Standard Oil Co. He was known by many in Cleveland to be generous, using his fortune to support various local charities, even in down times.
"Standard Oil made Cleveland the center of American petroleum production,” Clevelandhistorical.org reports. “As a result, the city saw benefits in the form of both economics and humanitarianism. Rockefeller’s company gave work to thousands, and Cleveland’s wealth grew in relation to Standard Oil’s expansion."
It also would be factual to say Standard Oil nearly beat the Cuyahoga River to death. The downside of the petrochemical success was the degraded environmental quality of the river and Lake Erie. For a decade and a half, lightly regulated industry was more beneficial to Cleveland than a clean river. The scales seemed to tip the other direction in the 1960s.
The modern EPA continues to struggle with the balance between regulation and public health. The EPA was started by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970. It has evolved into an agency of the government described as radical by both sides of the aisle in the last few years, for drastically different reasons. Under the Obama administration, the EPA aimed to fight climate change by regulating the fossil fuel industry. Under the Trump administration, the EPA aims to deregulate the energy sector in order to create jobs.
What do people dislike about the EPA?
“Combined, these 12 new or revised (Obama-era) requirements have added 51.5 million paperwork burden hours,” notes an American Action Forum article. “It would take 25,787 employees working full-time to complete this new paperwork. To monetize the increase, assuming the average wage rate of a compliance officer ($33.26/hour), EPA has increased its burden by $1.7 billion, more expensive than its recent ozone rule. This accounts for more than 100 percent of EPA’s paperwork gains since 2008 and the difference is due to agency paperwork measures that expired or reduced paperwork.”
The Media Bias Fact Check’s page on American Action Forum states: “These media sources are slightly to moderately conservative in bias. They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor conservative causes.”
What does the pro-EPA side say? The Atlantic magazine looked into the effects of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, based on a study by economist W. Reed Walker.
Reed wanted to know “whether workers who left newly regulated companies were able to easily find other jobs (he did not know whether the workers were fired or quit, just that they left).
He found that many workers in the regulated sectors left their firms and that the average worker saw an earnings loss equivalent to 20 percent of their pre-regulatory earnings. This amounted to $5.4 billion in lost earnings – no small sum. Yet the EPA has calculated that the health benefits of the amendments between 1990 and 2010 are between $160 billion and $1.6 trillion.
The Media Bias Fact Check’s page on The Atlantic notes: “They often publish factual information that utilizes loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favor liberal causes.”
It would be reasonable to say that EPA regulations could be focused on the most important and cost-effective issues, while still protecting the air we breathe and water we drink. As a country, we can have both of these things from the EPA.
The environmental/industrial scale will tip in one way or another for different reasons. If you own a refinery business on the Cuyahoga River, you are probably pretty annoyed by the EPA. If you drink water or breathe air near Cleveland, you may be happy with the same regulations.
Saying the EPA is a job-killing organization is like saying the highway patrol is killing the speedy pizza delivery industry. It would be faster for businesses to deliver pizzas if they could drive 100 miles per hour without the cops hassling them. It would be good for the pizza business to deliver more pizzas per day and receive better tips.
However, that wouldn't be in the interest of the general public, because 100-mile-per-hour pizza deliveries could create big traffic accidents and potentially kill people. You could say the highway patrol is deliberately harming the pizza business. However, the cops are public safety officers, so they are justified by regulating speeding.
There are legitimate concerns about complex regulation policies of the EPA, but those should be revised, not completely abandoned to benefit the energy industry.
We shouldn't treat the EPA differently than the highway patrol. They both exist to protect the safety of the general public, not to remove select regulations to support specific industries. If the only way for the energy sector to create jobs is to deregulate the EPA, those industries may not be very stable.
In the case of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, we could create more energy jobs in 2018 if we deregulated the river dumping policies. We might even see lower gas prices if oil refineries could cut the red tape and simply toss oil into the river again. If you know someone in Cleveland or elsewhere on Lake Erie, ask them which they prefer.
We can find a way to reasonably regulate poisons that we could potentially eat and drink. We have less of the following things in our daily lives because of the EPA: DDT, asbestos, lead, acid rain, untreated sewage dumped openly into the water we drink. The EPA should serve the health of the general public. It was never intended to be a job-creating agency.