The Environmental Protection Agency's new standards regulating ozone and particulate matter air pollution, finalized on July 19, 1997, have once again set off a national debate over the wisdom of air quality standards and the impact on our economy. As someone who has long been involved in efforts to protect the environment, I suggest the time is right for some new thinking. But first a review of where we are at the moment.
That air pollution damages human health and can shorten lives is not disputed. According to data gathered in 1995 by the American Cancer Society and Harvard Medical School, as analyzed in a 1996 report by the Natural Resources defense Council, my home town, Cleveland, ranks 10th in the nation (of the top 50 metropolitan areas) in the estimated number of deaths (more than 1,000) attributable to particulate air pollution.
Another study published in Environmental Health Perspectives (co-authored by Tracey Woodruff, Kenneth Schoendorf, and Jeanne Grillo) shows there is a 25% increase in mortality risk for infants exposed to the highest versus the lowest levels of particulate air pollution. The risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is about three times higher. The Northeast Ohio region (Cleveland, Lorain, Elyria) ranked fifth in the nation for having high concentrations of PM pollution that were contributing infant mortality. This study found an association between infant mortality and particulate matter air pollution after taking into account traditional risk factors: mother's education, race, smoking status, marital status, etc.
The economic benefits of a clean environment are clear as well: A recent EPA study of net benefits of the Clean Air Act from 1970 to 1990 provided a central estimate of the net monetized benefits at $6.8 trillion. According to the study, "Americans received approximately $20 of value in reduced risks of death, illness and other adverse effects for every dollar spent to control air pollution."
The science to back up the EPA's decision is also compelling: EPA used more than 250 peer-reviewed, published studies to make the case for more stringent rules on both ozone and particulate matter pollution. There has yet been an environmental decision as significant as this one that has had as much science backing it up. For instance, in 1974, during the Nixon Administration, EPA Administrator Bill Ruckelshaus banned DDT based on five studies. Yet opponents argue against the health benefits and insist there is no scientific basis for such increased vigilance. EPA has challenged those who attack these studies as junk to indicate exactly which study is junk. Not one study has been discredited.
There is overwhelming evidence of the economic advantage of clean air, but opponents claim there is no proven cost-benefit analysis to warrant stronger environmental protection, or they claim higher standards just cost too much and will result in the loss of jobs from industries that will be forced to shut down if they have to comply with more stringent regulations.
Yet, there is little evidence that jobs have been lost due to higher environmental standards. There is plenty of evidence that the United States has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the past decades due to tax abatements, cutthroat foreign competition, corporate downsizing, mergers, cheap foreign labor, and the dumping of products onto our markets because of inadequate trade protection.
And even if there was little in the way of economic analysis supporting higher-quality air standards, the clean air debate cannot be reduced to a simple cost-benefit analysis that ignores the effect of pollution on human health and separates the economic from the human.
We should not fact the 21st century locked into the old paradigm that gives us the false choice between jobs and clean air. Being pro-environmental does not mean one is anti-business. It is time for new thinking on the issue of pollution, thinking that promotes both economic growth and human health.
Nineteenth-century thinking focused on pollution control at the end of the tailpipe or the end of the chimney. Such an approach requires a great deal of energy and money, and is generally insufficient to protect the environment. New thinking looks at pollution prevention inventing ways to stop pollution from being created. New thinking views pollution as resources that are distributed in the wrong places. Wasted resources mean lost profits. Environmental protection IS fiscal conservatism.
For instance, when the state of Minnesota demanded that 3M accept higher environmental standards, the company asked engineers to rework an industrial process that not only reduced pollution but saved the company hundreds of million of dollars through pollution prevent.
And Honda has recently announced they are going to sell cars in all 50 states that meet California's Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards. These new vehicles emit about 70% less smog-producing pollution than the most stringent federal standards require. Where are they being built? In the Marysville, Ohio, a state that Governor George Voinovich says cannot attract new business because the environmental standards are too burdensome.
New thinking will require that government and industry leaders work together to further the development of a new economic order based on profit and human progress. As we apply the ingenuity that has enabled this country over the course of our history to create an undreamed-of future, let us imagine a 21st century where the American people can have both jobs and good health, where industry is green and the air is clean.