Why Washington's anti-regulation agenda will hurt the economy

Businesses are making the case for environmental regulation. Will Washington listen?
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Businesses are making the case for environmental regulation. Will Washington listen?

The president and congressional leaders are fixated on demolishing public health, safety and environmental regulations, but these efforts make little practical  or economic  sense.

Of particular concern is, first, the president’s "two-for-one" executive order requiring two federal regulations to be deleted for every one issued. The second is efforts by Congress to pass regulatory reform legislation that substantially would curb consideration of how the public would benefit under proposed rules.

There are many reasons to criticize this double-barrel regulatory assault. The biggest is broad economic harm to the American public and local communities because of weaker clean air, water and public health protections. Rules on coal-mining runoff and methane and power plant pollution already are on the chopping block. The effort also will be harmful to substantial swaths of the U.S. business community who are clamoring for regulatory certainty on key issues such as climate change and clean energy policy.

"The cost of doing business without a national carbon mitigation strategy subjects companies to undesirable risks," wrote candy giant Mars Inc. and software firm Adobe, in a legal brief filed last year supporting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, aimed at cutting carbon pollution from U.S. power plants.

Mars and Adobe are among dozens of major U.S. companies that have committed to using 100 percent renewable energy to power all their operations. Rather than dealing with state-by-state patchwork quilt energy policies, they would prefer a holistic national solution for tackling climate change and securing the green power they need for their facilities across the country.

The president likes to say that environmental regulations stifle economic growth and kill jobs. The truth is the opposite. While no regulations are perfect, federal environmental protections have, time and time again, provided enormous benefits for the American public and the broader economy. Consider the example of the EPA and the Clean Air Act — two of the administration’s favorite punching bags.

Federal environmental laws have helped restore areas from Cleveland to Boston, enabling commerce and recreation to thrive in places that had been previously unhealthy and polluted. Look no further than Boston’s Charles River, once famous for the song "Love that Dirty Water," which is now being used to make Harpoon Brewery beer. Public health and quality of life also have improved. Measures taken by the EPA under the Clean Air Act have prevented hundreds of thousands of premature deaths.

No doubt, such measures have been a rock-solid economic investment. The nonpartisan federal Office of Management and Budget has calculated that rules adopted by the EPA over the decade ending in 2012 yielded economic benefits 10 times their costs  a ratio better than all of the other federal agencies they reviewed.

Despite these findings, the Trump administration and Congress insist on undoing environmental protections that the public, businesses and investors strongly support. Two weeks ago, for example, the House voted to nix a rule requiring oil and gas producers to limit methane pollution  an especially potent greenhouse gas — on all federal and tribal lands.

The methane rule has strong public support, especially in Western communities where methane flaring (where natural gas from wells is simply burned off into the atmosphere) is an all-too-common byproduct of widespread hydraulic fracturing operations. More than 200,000 individuals and 80 local officials commented in support of the rule during the public comment period. Investors owning shares in oil and gas companies also support the rule, including major pension funds such as the California and New York City retirement funds who have voiced concern about energy companies losing billions of dollars worth of natural gas every year due to unnecessary flaring and well leaks.

Other regulatory rollback efforts will have profoundly negative impacts on consumers. Tougher fuel economy standards for vehicles, which the administration is threatening to weaken, are saving American drivers billions of dollars in reduced gasoline costs. Billions more will be saved under new energy efficiency standards for air conditioners and other building appliances  another item in the administration’s cross-hairs.

Other clean air efforts, such as the Clean Power Plan and broader U.S. support for the historic Paris Climate Agreement, also make good business sense. While the president has tried to cast doubt on these efforts, more than 760 companies and investors, many of them iconic Fortune 500 firms, are supporting them publicly because they recognize that climate change is an urgent priority that can be addressed with low-carbon policies that accelerate deployment of ever-cheaper cleaner energy.

"We want the U.S. economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy," wrote the businesses in a statement last month to President Trump and Congress. Supporters include industry giants such as General Mills, Nestle, Nike, Unilever and VF Corporation, all of whom are concerned about climate change and have ambitious goals for lowering their carbon footprints and using more renewable energy.

I hear this logic all the time from CEOs. Companies are eager to tackle important societal issues such as climate change, and they are happy to work with common-sense regulations that address them. What they don’t like is changing the rules of the road or dropping them all together  especially when there is no legitimate basis for doing so.

This anti-regulation agenda is neither grounded in science or economics, and the implications to our economy and public health call for reconsideration. Abandoning regulations such as the methane rule and the Clean Power Plan will hurt — rather than help  our economy and our way of life.

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