EPA rules threaten the economy

On Labor Day in Milwaukee, President Obama vowed to “keep fighting every single day, every single hour, every single minute, to turn this economy around and put people back to work and renew the American Dream.” Stirring rhetoric, no doubt; but to the employees at Thilmany Papers, a company that employs 850 people in two specialty paper mills in Wisconsin, it means little.

That’s because the Obama Environmental Protection Agency is threatening their livelihoods. The threat comes from EPA’s proposal to regulate industrial boilers, the Boiler MACT rule. As with most EPA rules, the Boiler MACT (maximum achievable control technology standards) sounds arcane, and seems to be the remote province of federal technocrats. This is certainly true, but its impact will be pervasive and damaging. Here’s what Thilmany had to say about it: “Our business, like many others, encounters many challenges. However, none threaten the continued existence of our business like this [proposed rule].”

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The United Steelworkers (USW) union emphatically opposes the Boiler MACT proposal. As the USW sees it, the proposal “will be sufficient to imperil the operating status of many industrial plants.” The USW represents hundreds of thousands of workers, “in the most heavily impacted industries, among them pulp & paper, steel, and rubber.” In the union’s view, “Tens of thousands of these jobs will be imperiled. In addition, many more tens of thousands of jobs in the supply chains and in the communities where these plants are located also will be at risk.”

The Industrial Energy Consumers of America (IECA), which represents major manufacturers with more than 750,000 employees, couldn’t have been more adamant: “We cannot emphasize more forcefully the need to the EPA to completely rethink this rule.” That’s because IECA’s member companies “are enormously concerned that the high costs of this proposed rule will leave companies no recourse but to shut down the entire facility, not just the boiler.”

It would be one thing if the Boiler MACT were an isolated instance of a flawed policy. But this flawed policy is part of a larger Obama EPA agenda to set industrial policy for the nation. EPA’s industrial policy should frighten those who hold jobs in factories across America — indeed, for those who aspire to live the American dream. For EPA’s policy sees a growing, thriving, job-creating manufacturing sector as incompatible with its unique brand of environmentalism.

The most prominent manifestation of EPA’s anti-industrial policy is the agency’s pending regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. EPA’s rules will extend the federal bureaucracy into every corner of American life. The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council believes EPA’s global warming regulations will cause “a cessation of expansion, hiring, investment, construction and new business start-up activity.” EPA’s new rules will require, among many other things, businesses of all kinds — from cement and steel plants to auto parts manufacturers to Wal-Marts — to obtain from EPA costly and time-consuming permits for construction and expansion.

On top of this, EPA is planning to revise the current ozone standard under the Clean Air Act. This standard was lowered during the Bush administration in 2008 — yet apparently not far enough for Obama’s EPA. Despite the fact that no new compelling public health studies have emerged to justify a lower standard, the Obama EPA supports ozone levels approaching, in some areas, what’s present in the air naturally, absent any human contribution.  

EPA’s expected new ozone standard will mar several hundred counties across the country with a scarlet “non-attainment” designation. This means more than just failing to meet the new standard: Such a designation severely constrains the ability of local communities to expand and create jobs. 

EPA estimates the new ozone standard could cost the economy as much as $90 billion. Unions for Jobs and the Environment, a coalition of unions that includes, among others, the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters, the IBEW and the United Mine Workers, says the potential new standards “will lead to significant jobs losses across the country.”

President Obama speaks grandiosely about restoring the American dream. Yet, all the while, his EPA churns out rules that will crush America’s industries and the manufacturing jobs they support. It’s time to stop EPA’s impending nightmare of shuttered factories and tradesmen with pink slips. And it’s time to restore the appropriate balance between environmental protection and economic growth. 

Sen. Inhofe is ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.