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Economy, Regs, & Taxes

EPA Smog Rules Will Hit Hard, Offer Little Benefit

Naturally, environmental groups say the ruling doesn't go far enough.

Lewis Morris · Oct. 2, 2015

The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the latest in a long series of new regulations that will only marginally benefit air quality while delivering a definitive blow to our fragile economy. The smog rule, which is now going forward after a four-year delay, will hit manufacturing hard, forcing layoffs and possibly plant closures across the country. Naturally, environmental groups say the ruling doesn’t go far enough — in fact, some of them may sue.

Barack Obama’s EPA first attempted to toughen the smog rule in 2011, but Obama held off implementation, fearing the negative impact it would have on states he needed to win re-election. This drew the ire of the environmental lobby, but they stood by their fair-weather warrior. Now that he has no accountability to the voters (did he ever?), Obama is free to push the rule forward.

The smog rule reduces the level of manufacturers’ ozone-producing emissions from the Bush administration’s 75 parts-per-billion to 70 parts-per-billion. Dubious studies cited by the EPA suggest that a reduction to 70 ppb would prevent 325,000 cases of childhood asthma and 1,440 premature deaths. Dropping to 65 ppb would supposedly reduce those numbers to 1 million fewer cases and 4,300 fewer deaths. Just how these numbers are determined or whether they take into account other health factors is a mystery. We’re just expected to take the EPA’s word for it — even as the agency admits the costs outweigh the benefits.

Air quality has significantly improved in the last 35 years, with air pollutants falling by 62% since 1980, and ozone emissions by a third. What the EPA doesn’t want you to know, however, is that by cranking the regulations ever tighter, they get a steadily diminishing return — less improvement in air quality for a greater burden on the manufacturing sector.

Chemical scrubbers required to meet pollution guidelines can cost millions of dollars apiece, and there is also an exponential cost to each uptick in the regulatory requirements.

“Cutting 90% of pollution is one thing,” said Howard Feldman, Director of Regulatory Affairs at the American Petroleum Institute. “But cutting 95% can double the cost of getting to 90.”

The association estimates that the new smog rule would result in a GDP loss of $140 billion a year through 2040. NERA Economic Consulting states that some four million jobs would be in jeopardy due to the rule.

Finally, 40% of the U.S. population lives in areas that haven’t met the old EPA smog standard, much less the new one.

A similar EPA regulation aimed at petroleum manufacturers will go into effect in 2018, and the American Petroleum Institute estimates it will cost $1 billion to implement. The EPA said the regulation would cost $63 million to put in place. Somebody is way off. Care to guess who?

Manufacturers alone won’t absorb these costs. They can’t. So consumers will bear the brunt of the EPA’s actions. West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito challenged the EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Janet McCabe this week over the impact of similar regulations on the public.

“Right now we have 430,000 low- and middle-income people in West Virginia whose take-home pay is $1,900 a month. They spend 17% of their take-home money to pay for their energy,” Capito said. “When this goes up, say 20%, this is going to have a cost to them.”

The EPA and the Obama administration don’t seem to mind, though. Obama was clear from the beginning about the fact that energy prices would “necessarily skyrocket” in order for him to enact his grand environmental agenda. The goal all along was to price fossil fuel producers out of existence in order to force the public to accept a green energy infrastructure as the only alternative.

The big problem is that the green energy revolution hasn’t happened, and in many respects cannot happen. For starters, mass use of green energy will never get off the ground if it has to be endlessly subsidized by the federal government. And the reason it’s subsidized is that the technology simply isn’t economically viable yet. Private-sector fossil fuel energy producers have done more positive work on reducing their environmental footprint than environmentalists have been able to do in making wind, solar and biofuels cheap and achievable on a wide scale.

But the ecofascists will hear nothing of it. In typical leftist fashion, their reaction is to double down on their agenda, attack the manufacturing base with more regulations, and force the public to absorb the final cost of the whole fiasco.

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