Public Health Protections Save Lives, Create Jobs

Blocking Clean Air Safeguards Has Serious Consequences

Republicans want to repeal important safeguards that are crucial to public health and our economy, writes Dan Weiss.

Blocking Clean Air Act safeguards would have serious, real world health and productivity consequences. (Flickr/akeg)
Blocking Clean Air Act safeguards would have serious, real world health and productivity consequences. (Flickr/akeg)

On Monday August 29, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a list of 10 proposed and final regulations “that our committee chairmen have identified, as well as a selective calendar for their repeal.” Seven of the standards he targets are public health protections under the Clean Air Act.

We know from Environmental Protection Agency data that blocking five of these safeguards would have serious, real world health and productivity consequences. [1] The Environmental Protection Agency projects that there will be an additional 24,860 to 68,100 premature deaths every year if these pending standards are not implemented. The latter death figure represents twice the number of people who died on United States highways in 2009, the last year for data.

These safeguards would also reduce aggravated asthma cases by up to 657,000. Up to 52,000 hospitalizations would be avoided. And they would potentially prevent 5.6 million missed days of school or work due to respiratory distress or ailments linked to air pollution. These effects exact a real toll on lives, public health, and the economy.

safeguards save lives

The ostensible reason for blocking these safeguards is that they could reduce jobs. In fact, Nobel Economic Laureate Paul Krugman noted that the opposite is true—investments in pollution reduction technologies and practices actually create jobs, particularly when there is a stalled economy. For instance, in the wake of President Obama’s disappointing decision to retain the weak Bush-era ozone smog health standard, he wrote:

“Tighter ozone regulation would actually have created jobs: it would have forced firms to spend on upgrading or replacing equipment, helping to boost demand. Yes, it would have cost money — but that’s the point! And with corporations sitting on lots of idle cash, the money spent would not, to any significant extent, come at the expense of other investment.”

A report from the University of Massachusetts, sponsored by CERES, confirmed this finding. In “New Jobs, Cleaner Air,” it found that the utility mercury and cross-state pollution rules would create 1.5 million jobs.

“The report finds that investments driven by the EPA’s two new air quality rules will create nearly 1.5 million jobs, or nearly 300,000 jobs a year on average over the next five years—and at a critical moment for a struggling economy.”

Now that the president rejected EPA’s proposal to base the ozone smog health standard on the best science, the House Republican leadership has no need “to act swiftly to prevent its implementation.” They will, however, continue to target the other Clean Air Act rules. The president must continue to fight and defeat efforts to block and weaken these other clean air health safeguards.

[1] Two of the seven Clean Air Act standards have yet to be proposed: standards to reduce carbon dioxide and other pollutants from coal fired power plants and oil refineries, and modernizing protection from coarse particulates. Therefore, there are not similar estimates of life, health, and productivity impacts.

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress. Thanks to Donna Cooper, Senior Fellow with the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress.

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Daniel J. Weiss

Senior Fellow

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