The House of Representatives has set its sights on limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to enforce several environmental laws in this country. For example, the House voted last week to strip the EPA of all authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Such a measure is unlikely to pass the Senate and the president has indicated he would veto such a bill; however, the House is seeking leverage to prevent regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.
One tactic is to exploit the Economy vs. Environment debate, which is based on the premise that too much environmental regulation over industrial activities kills jobs. This ignores the benefits to the economy from innovations in energy efficiency, renewable energy and domestic alternative fuel sources. A recent manifestation of this thinking involves a proposed bill from Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas. According to an article on timesunion.com, Rep. Olson’s legislation would require the EPA to include in any proposed rulemaking a statement identifying any net gain or loss in domestic jobs, both direct and indirect, that would result from the regulation. Olson stated his bill would “establish some accountability and make (the) EPA go on the record.”
As evidenced by the recent budget negotiations, the climate in Washington is clearly favorable towards substantial spending cuts, including eliminating regulations to decrease the burden on business and provide regulatory certainty. Rep. Olson’s proposed legislation, requiring an analysis of direct and indirect impacts to employment, may create many conundrums that cannot be meaningfully resolved, leaving any information provided by the EPA to be of questionable utility. Whether pro or con, every regulation will result in some impacts to employment that cannot be predicted with an economic model. Jobs may be lost because of production efficiencies and the closing of antiquated facilities that cannot be updated to modern standards. Alternatively, innovations in pollution control technology and the development, installation and monitoring of those technologies could create jobs. Also, the EPA would have to grapple with difficult questions of geographic scale and the definitions of “direct” and “indirect” gains or losses. Implementing such legislation could stall any rulemaking for the foreseeable future, which may be the objective.
Nevertheless, the Olson bill raises fundamental questions, such as whether the EPA must balance the economic impacts of its regulatory actions against improving environmental quality. The EPA’s mission already includes consideration of economic growth in establishing environmental policy, and that consideration is reflected in the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations, which target only the largest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases, leaving out small businesses. Until the House can go “on the record” and demonstrate how greenhouse gas regulations would “put the American economy in a straitjacket, costing us millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars a year,” as Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has said, moving forward with legislation requiring the EPA to put a number on job gains and losses should be carefully considered.