Trump’s ‘job killing’ regulations? Buzzwords that will sting Trump voters
© Getty Images

The plans by the Trump Administration and Congress to gut or rein in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are based on a single idea, often expressed as a self-evident truth: regulations kill jobs.

This week, for example, President Trump signed an order to eliminate two regulations for every new one created. Trump’s pick to run EPA, Scott Pruitt, has declared that a top priority for him will be regulatory rollback. Under the Energy Reform section of Trump’s website, he said that he will “rescind all the job-destroying Obama executive actions, including the Climate Action Plan.”

To hear Trump and his allies talk, one might think President Obama’s EPA strangled the American oil and gas industry.

ADVERTISEMENT
If Obama was trying to kill this industry with regulations, he failed miserably because oil and gas production skyrocketed during his watch.

Fueled by advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (which Obama praised), natural gas production in the U.S. vaulted 34 percent from 2008 to 2015, rising from 20,158,602 million cubic feet in 2008 to 27,059,503 million cubic feet in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration.

During this boom, America became the number one gas producer in the world — hardly evidence of an industry killed by Obama’s EPA. Crude oil production in the U.S. nearly doubled between 2008 and 2015, from an average five million barrels per day to 9.42 million in 2015.

It is true that some gas, oil and coal companies have since been pushed toward bankruptcy. But this is largely a self-inflicted wound caused by the excesses of the natural gas industry itself, which drilled so many wells and unleashed such a glut of gas that prices plummeted, making drilling less profitable and coal-fired power plants less competitive and financially viable.

The reality is that decades of research by economists have documented that there is little or no evidence that environmental regulations “kill jobs.”  Far more often, these regulations create jobs by forcing companies to hire American construction workers and engineers to build sewage treatment plants, sewer lines, air pollution control systems and other upgrades to their plants – instead of just wasting their money on bloated CEO salaries or stock buybacks that help Wall Street but not workers.

That may be surprising to hear, given how often the buzzwords “job killer” are repeated by Trump and Congressional Republicans, and how easily the news media quote this big lie without challenging it, as reporters should.

Self-reported industry data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that only about two tenths of one percent of layoffs are caused by government regulations of any kind, including environmental regulations. These are “mass layoffs,” defined as more than 50 people laid off for at least 30 days – an important statistic to look at. Layoffs of all kinds are caused far more often by declines in business demand (36 percent), including because of competition; shifts in seasonal need for workers (34 percent); financial problems at the company's (s6 percent); and changes of ownership, including buyouts (5 percent); among other causes. Technological advances and lower overseas labor costs both play important roles in the loss of American jobs.

Here are the facts you won’t hear from the Trump administration, but you will hear from economists and researchers who have published on the subject.

  • For every job lost due to government regulations, 15 are lost due to corporate cost cutting, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • A 2014 review paper from the London School of Economics concluded that the effect of environmental regulations on the competitiveness of businesses is “negligible compared to other factors such as market conditions and the quality of the local workforce.”

  • Over the last decade, the benefits of environmental regulations have exceeded the costs they impose by a ratio of more than ten to one, according to a 2015 report of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

  • All told, major regulations provide net economic benefits to the U.S. of over $500 billion per year, according to that OMB report.

Wall Street and corporate boards may cheer Trump’s drive for deregulation, but that’s because it may provide a few percentage points more profit for the investors who dominate Trump’s cabinet.  The real victims will be the working class Trump voters, who will choke on the air pollution unleashed by the killing of EPA and be sickened by the realization that they have elected a dirtier planet for their children.

Eric Schaeffer is Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington D.C., and former Director of Civil Enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency. He served at EPA from 1990 to 2002.


The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.