5 Myths About Environmental Regulation

Conservatives and some pro-business groups (usually major multinationals who also happen to be big polluters) argue that some of the following things will happen if the government steps up its legally-mandated role to regulate environmental pollution, for instance carbon emissions that cause global warming. So here are some of those myths debunked:

Myth 1. Regulation will cause job losses and plant closings.

The historical record proves the opposite. In the decade that followed passage of the Clean Air Act, a tiny fraction of one percent of all jobs lost could be attributed to action taken under the law. In that same period an additional 10 million lay-offs took place in the U.S. – none of which resulted from environmental regulation. (Corruption, poor business decisions, and job-killing profit maximization decisions led to more job losses. For example in the 2007-2009 recession, the rise in unemployment has been correctly attributed to corrupt practices in the financial services sector that led to its collapse.)

Myth 2. Regulation will cost too much and will cause immense harm in the economy.

Truth be told, several studies from MIT, Harvard, DOE, and other private and public institutions predict low costs and ongoing economic growth. The sky will not fall. The record is clear: The Clean Air Act and actions regulating the emission of "acid rain"-causing pollutants in the 1990s did not bring about the end of the world, and the economic growth or recession in the past 20 years occurred unrelated to the existence of those laws and the actions taken under them to control pollution.

Myth 3. There are no economic benefits in government spending on environmental protection and clean-up.

The fact is that job creation as a result of spending in environmental clean-up has outpaced some basic industries such as construction and manufacturing.

Myth 4. Companies will leave the U.S. to find "pollution havens."

Companies do move their operations out of the country, harming local communities that depend on the jobs. But the overwhelming majority of those companies do so not because of environmental regulations. They do so seeking lower labor costs. Again, they are making profit maximizing decisions that cost workers jobs in the U.S. It is really about environmental regulation. No evidence has been found to prove that the biggest polluters are anxious to leave the U.S because of environmental regulation.

Myth 5. Further pollution regulation will devastate communities in Appalachia that rely on coal mining.

Economists are predicting that employment in coal mining will fall significantly due to mechanization over the next decade or so with or without added regulation. More importantly, coal operators have blocked economic diversification in that region for decades in order to keep control over a low-wage labor surplus. Other than this, there is no legal or moral obstacle to economic diversity in that region that will create new job growth.

The above information comes from a report authored by a group of economists at the Economics for Equity and the Environment Network titled "Climate Policy and Jobs: An Update on What Economists Know" (June 2010).

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