A Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) report released this week is creating a bit of a stir. The report says most environmental regulations don’t kill jobs or slow the economy but, in fact, create jobs and stimulate the economy, especially during recessions.
The CBF report’s conclusions were based on a number of independent academic, economic, and non-profit studies, all leading to the same end: Despite political rhetoric to the contrary, environmental regulations have a documented history of causing no harm to the economy, with job losses often more than offset by jobs created by environmental cleanup and restoration.
Responses to the report have been interesting.
“If regulations created jobs, then the Obama administration would have created an economic tidal wave and we'd have full employment right now. Any time you force people to spend money, the impact new regulations have is going to have a dramatically negative impact on the economy.”
That’s a rhetorical shot that neither he nor the newspaper back up with any evidence. Certainly Parrish is entitled to his opinion, and newspapers are free to publish what they like, but one has to wonder why such unsubstantiated claims are offered as “evidence” when they are not evidence at all. Merely saying something does not make it so – especially when important public policy, public health, and public funds hang in the balance.
The Roanoke Times editorialized about such rhetoric and called CBF’s report “a welcome counterbalance…in pointing out that warnings about job losses in some sectors are estimates only, rightly taken with a grain of salt, and actual losses have to be weighed against the economic gains to be made from saving the dying bay.
“Polluting industries impose a cost on society, which in this case will benefit from cleaner waters from the mountain rills at the head of the watershed to the mouth of the giant estuary. A restored bay will be a boon to the seafood and tourism industries, and the work of getting and keeping it clean will create environmental jobs.”
An op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this week likened the job losses caused by some environmental regulations (statistically minuscule – less than two-tenths of one percent of all layoffs in the U.S.) with the jobs killed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a businessman with Bain Capital, a private venture capital firm. Bain Capital’s specialty apparently is buying sluggish U.S. companies and making them lean and mean -- and more profitable for investors -- by laying off workers.
Romney concedes the job losses but contends Bain Capital’s efforts are good for the larger economy, an argument the Times-Dispatch says is no different than the one made by EPA, CBF, and others for environmental regulations -- i.e., environmental protections serve the larger good. The paper then says that at least Bain Capital’s investors have a choice (although the workers it lays off don’t!), but that companies that must comply with environmental regulations do not.
That’s a rather tenuous and tedious stretch. Bain Capital’s goal – indeed, the goal of most business -- is increased profits for investors, not protecting the health and welfare of ordinary Americans. Those are very, very different objectives, and it is neither inconsistent nor inappropriate to support the nation’s environmental laws and regulations while lamenting U.S. jobs killed simply to boost corporate profits.
I don’t know the history of Bain Capital’s creation or the motives of its investors. But we should remember that it was a democratically elected U.S. Congress that publicly debated and approved the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act – and established the EPA to enforce them – all because of the mess we as a society have made of our air, water, and land. These environmental laws are as critical to the common health, safety, and welfare of Americans as our national defense and public safety.
Candidates and newspapers can argue what they like, but requiring companies to comply with environmental laws and regulations is only fair and just, should not be by choice, and is certainly not comparable to selecting investment options.
Do you agree?
Chesapeake Bay Foundation