The war on environmental regulations continues: This week, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt revealed that EPA is considering changing how it weighs the benefits and costs of regulations that protect against pollution. This reconsideration reflects the prevailing view of the Trump administration, Congress and industry that the benefits of regulations have been inflated and are costly.
But that view is not supported by the facts. Even Trump’s own Office of Management and Budget has concluded that environmental regulations save lives and money. In a recent report, Trump’s OMB found that, over the last decade, the benefits of EPA regulations vastly outweighed their costs: up to $706 billion in benefits compared to up to $65 billion in costs.
Still, “regulations are bad” is the administration’s story, and they’re sticking to it. After OMB issued the legally-required report, the agency ignored its findings. Pruitt — never shy when it comes to headline-grabbing statements about why regulations are bad — has been uncharacteristically silent when it comes to their benefits.
Regulations under the Clean Air Act, a law that is literally life-saving, produce the lion’s share of benefits. A comprehensive EPA study found air quality improvements under the act — from 1990 projected to 2020 — worth nearly $2 trillion, with costs around $65 billion. The investments translate into 230,000 fewer premature deaths and lower rates of lung and heart disease, other respiratory conditions and infant mortality. Thanks to cleaner air, people will have been spared 70,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, 200,000 heart attacks and 2,400,000 asthma attacks.
The regulations also prevent 120,000 emergency room visits, 5,400,000 lost school days and 17,000,000 lost work days. These are precisely the kinds of health benefits the Clean Air Act was enacted to produce.
You would never know that from EPA’s published summary of Pruitt’s first-year accomplishments, which modestly describes “22 deregulatory actions” as a “monumental” achievement saving “more than $1 billion in regulatory costs.” The summary recites a litany of buzzwords to describe regulation as “job-killing,” “duplicative,” and that old standby, “burdensome and overreaching.” Not surprisingly, the summary also fails to mention predicted benefits of $300 billion by 2030 from climate protection measures short-circuited by EPA deregulatory actions.
Even the predicted savings from reduced regulation are uncertain. Regulatory costs are often overestimated, for example, by ignoring industry’s capacity to adapt. History shows that regulation routinely fosters innovation and economic competitiveness, with little evidence that it significantly harms employment or the nation’s economy.
One recent study by experts from George Mason University, which expected to confirm that regulations harm the economy, actually found that “federal regulation is not a major cause” of reduced economic vitality.
By ignoring the well-documented benefits of environmental regulation, Pruitt’s EPA is showing its true colors. Its goal is the reckless and wholesale elimination of environmental protections that have improved the health of our nation’s people, air, land, and water for half a century. Under Pruitt, the EPA’s core mission is to save money for polluters, rather than to protect the American people.
David F. Coursen is a former EPA attorney and is a member of the Environmental Protection Network, a nonprofit organization of EPA alumni working to protect the agency's progress toward clean air, water, land and climate protections.