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    Benefits Of New EPA Rules Greatly Outweigh Costs, If You Use Pretend Money
    By Hank Campbell | December 22nd 2011 12:16 PM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

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    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

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    What is a paltry $195 billion in real cost versus $1 trillion in potential savings? Fans of 'jobs created or saved' fuzzy economics will love a report by the Joint Center For Political and Economic Studies, which says that six new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality regulations, which will cost about $195 billion over the next 20 years, will save well over $1 trillion. 

    I italicize $1 trillion because it works best if you use a Dr. Evil voice to read it so I wanted to give you a visual hook. Like him, it may take some trial and error to figure out what number will have enough impact to mobilize people into action so, like these numbers, just make them up until you get the desired effect.



    How did they derive $1 trillion?  The EPA helped by coming up with new regulations and making up some numbers to say it wouldn't be so bad for the economy but the Columbia researchers who are behind the study go farther and highlight that more regulations will help minorities most, which is apparently bonus money in these calculations. Patrick L. Kinney, professor of Environmental Health Sciences and director of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health's Program on Climate and Health, and doctoral candidate Amruta Nori-Sarma note the role that "environmental justice" issues play in the development of EPA regulations.   How did they get their numbers, then? Well, some of it involved just asking people if they thought regulations would help them.

    You remember when Napster was big news?  Record companies made outrageous claims that every song downloaded was a lost album sale and it was all these billions of dollars they never would have gotten yet somehow still lost. And California health mullahs have claimed $86 billion 'saved' by charging people more to smoke cigarettes - even though California has been mired in debt for a decade and keeps raising taxes on cigarettes so if those health 'savings' were real we should have put the state in a surplus by now. The Columbia Mailman School of Public Health goes California one better there too. They recently proved cigarettes are a gateway to cocaine use because lot of cocaine-addicted mice they surveyed also smoke cigarettes.



    Here the researchers claim that the six new onerous, anti-business laws from the EPA will save all this money in doctors' visits, hospitalizations, and a reduction in cases of bronchitis, respiratory illness, and aggravated asthma. If you disagree, you clearly don't care about African Americans, low income people and tribal individuals.  Seriously, they invoke the 'world ends - minorities impacted most' method of framing to rationalize why more laws are good even if they are not.   Last week, they also claimed gay marriage laws would reduce health care costs by 14%.  You see what I mean about never needing anyone to pay taxes with all of the advocacy-based healthcare savings we can get? The rules they asked people about are:

    - The Heavy-duty Vehicles Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Standards
    - The 2017-2025 Model Year Light-Duty Vehicle GHG Emissions and Café Standards
    - The Utility Air Toxics Rule
    - The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule
    - The Boiler MACT
    - The new standards of Performance for Petroleum Refineries

    but it really doesn't matter in this sort of report.  We know cars have a role in urban air pollution  - that makes sense, since there are a lot more people in a small area, so why environmentalists want to force more people into cities is a mystery. But that is where the facts end. The light-duty vehicle rule will cost an estimated $140 billion - that's real money not the fuzzy 'it takes 140 liters of water to make a cup of coffee math' these folks use -  but they claim the oil saved and the health benefits linked to reduced emissions will net $561 billion.

    That's a lot of money.  It's like a big subsidy for the health care industry so if the car industry loses $140 billion and health insurers are going to gain $561 billion, why does the government need to be in health care at all?  Maybe they recognize that if projected saved money was actual real money, the government would make a profit just by adding in more layers of rules on actual businesses that employ people. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way, any more than DoE shills for Big Solar have actually made solar power better by wasting $35 billion on corporate welfare.

    Most importantly for a good study from Columbia was taking a poll. These environmental justice researchers do not disappoint.   They surveyed 1,500 African American adults in Atlanta, Cleveland and Philadelphia and found:

    • 59% believe that global warming is causing serious problems
    • 84% want the federal government to take strong action to deal with global warming
    • 80% support EPA's Toxics Rule - this one is terrific.  80% of all Americans don't even know what these rules are but 80% of inner city African-Americans are experts.  Take that, teachers unions.  Clearly we don't need to spend more money for schools in low-income neighborhoods.
    • 40% described their air quality as excellent or good, 59% said it was fair or poor
    • 83% said air pollution causes asthma in children

    That's clearly enough reason for the EPA to disregard the basics of science or economics and push through all kinds of new regulations. Minorities, 'it's for the children', all they have to do is link the new rules to lower mercury and the anti-vaccine folks are on board.  It would be a progressive trifecta!  

    Oh wait, that third one does reduce mercury emissions, which an alarming chunk of the left blames for Autism using the same science used by Columbia researchers - polls and anecdotes.   
    Clearly we need sensible regulation of emissions but the EPA has gone a little rogue anyway - and Columbia is not doing society any favors by engaging in scientization of politics.

    Comments

    MikeCrow
    I wonder if these people realize when they hype crap like this, and people actually figure it out, it seriously harms real issue's credibility?

    I guess I can answer my own question, obviously not.
    Never is a long time.
    Come on Hank, I expect better. Sure, this is a crappy, poorly done report that exaggerates the benefits of a few regulations, but many of your larger points are just wrong. First of all, any economist will tell you that externalities are a huge problem for a market to deal with. Air pollution is usually the classic example of this. Will these regulations save $1trillion? No, but will they improve the air quality and health of many people? Most likely. Could those benefits be quantified in a well done paper? Yes. In particular, one of the rule changes will force some plants that were grandfathered into current law in the 1970s to finally come up to code or close down. Now, is this a good idea? It's worth discussing, but your trivializing of the whole issue of environmental regulation doesn't help.

    Then, when you say, "why environmentalists want to force more people into cities is a mystery" is obviously just rhetorical flourish, but in case you weren't clear, it is because the overall environmental impact of a city dweller is much lower, due to fewer miles traveled in single occupancy vehicles, higher usage of public transportation, cheaper costs for transporting consumer goods/food, if in an apartment or condo, generally much more efficient heating/cooling costs, and others. You may have heard of economies of scale?

    I really appreciate some of your more thoughtful posts bringing a more conservative slant to things, but posts like this don't help.

    Hank
    Air pollution is usually the classic example of this. Will these regulations save $1trillion? No, but will they improve the air quality and health of many people? Most likely. Could those benefits be quantified in a well done paper? Yes.
    The downside to exaggerated claims is that people get jaded and then no realistic policy decisions ever get made.  It's become a compelling issue in the 'scientization of politics', which is clearly as problematic as the politicization of science.  

    Well done papers get plenty of respect here but if a science site does not call out the bad ones, then we are guilty of being the same as the mainstream media journalists that lost the respect of the public because they stopped being trusted guides on complex issues and became cheerleaders for anything sounding like science and fuzzy good works issues like 'improving health'.
     
    I'm not entirely critical of the EPA and certainly not environmental action and responsible stewardship - but this paper is made-up nonsense that uses polls to quantify and distort economic benefit where little exists. If we want to kill these businesses, kill them, the same way we should simply outlaw cigarette smoking or any other field where advocacy has overtaken science.  But ridiculous claims that higher taxes on smoking have saved a million lives and $86 billion in California alone are obviously made up, the same way this supposed $1 trillion is invented from whole cloth.

    Thanks for the kind words and sorry I didn't make a better case for you in this piece; hey, even Elvis had some bad albums, right?
    Halliday

    Rashad:

    While you are correct that some of these regulations may actually "improve the air quality and health of many people", many of theme will either have little or no actual benefit, or will obtain such benefit under false pretenses (I'm primarily thinking of the ones bases upon Greenhouse Gases [GHGs], in the latter case).

    As far as your statement that "In particular, one of the rule changes will force some plants that were grandfathered into current law in the 1970s to finally come up to code or close down", are you referring to "The Utility Air Toxics Rule", or to "The Boiler MACT"?  In either case, the benefits are likely to be minimal for the portion of the country (primarily the eastern, most polluted portion of the country) that was already subject to the "Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART)" rule, that was associated with the Regional Haze rule, since that rule already "force[d] some plants that were grandfathered into current law in the 1970s to finally come up to code or close down."

    Incidentally, this latter case may well foreshadow the results of such regulations:  Almost all facilities chose to preemptively shut down equipment, rather than being subject to BART.

    "Now, is this a good idea?"  Perhaps it needs some real discussion, rather than "fake numbers".

    Then there's your argument

    Then, when you say, "why environmentalists want to force more people into cities is a mystery" is obviously just rhetorical flourish, but in case you weren't clear, it is because the overall environmental impact of a city dweller is much lower, due to fewer miles traveled in single occupancy vehicles, higher usage of public transportation, cheaper costs for transporting consumer goods/food, if in an apartment or condo, generally much more efficient heating/cooling costs, and others. You may have heard of economies of scale?
    Now, you are correct that there are potential "economies of scale" for "city dweller[s]".  However, many of these are gone if such "city dweller[s]" have to commute to other cities in order to find good work, rather than becoming trapped, "indentured servants" (for all practical purposes) to whatever employers are available.  Most other benefits there are can be had outside the "big city".  (The principle benefit that is not so easily had outside the "big city" is "cheaper costs for transporting consumer goods/food" and some other services.  However, there are means in the works that may well decrease even that relative benefit.)

    Yet, what the "city dweller" must trade for these "much lower" "overall environmental impacts", besides the freedom of employment I have already alluded to, are things like greater crowding, congestion, noise, and pollution exposure.  While the total amount of pollution may have decreased, the concentration is significantly increased (even more so if we move energy production closer to the cities in order to decrease transmission losses, to further decrease total pollution emission).  Yet, this will only increase the "drive" to further regulate the emissions!

    Besides, I've become quite fond of living out in the country, among the trees.  I, too, benefit from "much more efficient heating/cooling costs", since my surroundings are warmer in the winter and much cooler in the summer than in the "big city".  Besides, there seems to be something very therapeutic about being surrounded by nature, rather than crowding, congestion, noise, concrete, and asphalt.

    Perhaps what is more truly needed is a more broad, far-reaching, and scientific (including good sociology/psychology/etc.) discussion of the issues.  Throw out all the pseudo-scientific arguments, all the politically motivated "junk", all the self-serving "special interests", and get down to what can actually help the members of our societies to thrive and flourish, rather than becoming chattel and pawns in power struggles.

    David

    "but it really doesn't matter in this sort of report. We know cars have a role in urban air pollution - that makes sense, since there are a lot more people in a small area, so why environmentalists want to force more people into cities is a mystery."

    I recently moved into a city condo from a suburban home. I am using one third the gasoline with the same vehicle because all stores are close by and home heating bills are lower. The mailman spends hours within the same three buildings instead of driving around. Delivery trucks have less far to travel, etc, etc.

    It would be useful if 'scientific' sites at least tried to write sense. The biggest threat to the USA today is the disinformation distributed by fractured, self interested media. We seem to have become a society driven by lies.

    Hank
    The health effects of living in the city versus the country are rather extensively documented. So we have one segment claiming our health care costs will go down by not living in a city and one claiming they will go up living in the city unless we get rid of emissions.

    I certainly agree from a convenience, and therefore a resources, point of view.  If I were single, I would live in the city.  More people living in cities, regardless of cars, compounds the pollution issue, that is why I say environmentalists who see one aspect of this are dismissed in any reasonable conversation.  Health and pollution have a lot of knobs and picking one is just bad methodology - but this article is about methodology and that is why I mention them as well.
    Just abolish the EPA and be done with it. Then you can have air and soil like in China, with respiratory complaints being a leading cause of treatment in Beijing and their agricultural land slowly being ruined. If the business community did not have such a long reputation for shitting in our nest and then walking away leaving us to clean up the mess they created perhaps we wouldn't need an EPA.

    The figures are crap, health cost estimates often are. People can't get firm answers so they make up scary stuff. Environmental concerns are replete with scare mongering. I have serious concerns about pollution, we can't just keep shitting in the nest. At some point we have to come terms with cleaning up after ourselves. Too many in the corporate community are being forced to be responsible but like spoiled brats who won't clean up after themselves.

    Hank
    Right, we can't let any corporation or individual have their own environmental policies; just like some people are assholes, some companies are, even if overall people are generally responsible just like companies are. It's the 10% that kill us.  

    But the EPA is consistently engaged in the scientization of politics; they ask what their constituency wants and then invent a science sounding reason to do it. Certainly all branches of government do this to science - the only solution is to get science out of government control - but some are more overt.  I can't think of a way to make the EPA more moderate but, to his credit, Pres. Obama has actually reined them in here and there.  The XL pipeline stall is a mistake, I think, but he had to make a call and polls among his base showed they were disgruntled enough with him to stay home in November, 2012 if he didn't give them something that had a veneer of anti-business environmentalism. 

    This paper is much worse than the EPA's studies because it uses total rubbish to rationalize even more onerous (right now) policies.