White House Study Explains Why GOP Targets EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency has become a target of House Republicans and of GOP presidential hopefuls. They say its rules are job killers. A new White House report finds air pollution rules from the EPA cost far more than other government regulations. But they also result in far more benefits than other government mandates.

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Now let's talk about another political hot button issue, the Environmental Protection Agency will announce a new rule this week to slash pollution from power plants.

This is the kind of regulation that makes businesses grit their teeth, and turns the EPA into a punching bag for House Republicans and Republican presidential hopefuls.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports that a new White House study sheds some light on why the agency has become such a target.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: Representative Michele Bachmann echoed a lot of her Republican colleagues sentiments when she lashed out at the EPA during a CNN presidential debate.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): There is no other agency like the EPA. It should really be renamed the Job Killing Organization of America.

SHOGREN: A new report from an unlikely source explains at least in part why the EPA is under fire. The White House Office of Management and Budget says the annual costs of EPA regulations, enacted over the last 10 years, are more than $23 billion. That's more than the combined costs of regulations from the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Labor, Justice, Transportation, HHS and HUD.

Some business representatives say the report only captures part of why EPA rules hurt so much.

Mr. JEFFREY HOLMSTEAD (Former Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, EPA): It's a combination of cost, and paperwork and delay that is making a lot of companies feel like they can't really operate in the U.S. any more.

SHOGREN: Industry lawyer Jeffrey Holmstead headed EPA's air pollution programs under President Bush. He says there are lots of uncounted costs of EPA rules. For instance, he represents a big power plant project in Texas that's been stalled for six months waiting to see if the EPA will require a new kind of permit.

Mr. HOLMSTEAD (Lawyer): If it weren't for EPA's new greenhouse gas permitting requirements, there would be several thousand jobs being filled in Corpus Christi right now.

SHOGREN: Holmstead says EPA rules are stifling job growth. But...

Ms. GINA MCCARTHY (Assistant Administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, EPA): We have never seen evidence of that. In fact, our rules tend to create jobs.

SHOGREN: Gina McCarthy heads the EPA's air programs. She stresses that the same White House report also shows the benefits of EPA rules outweigh their costs by at least three-to-one.

Ms. MCCARTHY: We are proving something that many people simply in their gut don't want to believe, which is that the agency is actually successful in bringing public health improvements, in a way that doesn't negatively impact the economy.

SHOGREN: Many economists agree that the overall benefits outstrip the costs of clean air rules.

Harvard Economics Professor Robert Stavins is one of them. His research shows regulations can create some short-term jobs. Workers are needed to make and install pollution control devices and build cleaner power plants. In the long term, Stavins says, the rules don't have a big impact on jobs one way or another - although you wouldn't know that by listening to the politicians.

Professor ROBERT STAVINS (Economics, Harvard University): What's unfortunate about this is those who support more environmental regulation have promoted it as job creation, rather than as environmental protection. And those who are opposed to it, for whatever reasons, have featured it as job killing. In fact it is neither.

SHOGREN: Economists say that the dispute over whether EPA rules kill or create jobs distracts from the undisputed long-term public health benefits that come from these regulations. For example, they reduce asthma attacks and prevent premature deaths from heart and lung failure.

Michael Greenstone is an economist at MIT.

Professor MICHAEL GREENSTONE (Environmental Economics, MIT): Yes, regulations raise the cost of doing business. So it's not surprising that firms that are regulated reduce the number of people they hire. But what you're hoping is that the regulations also produce lots of benefits.

SHOGREN: Greenstone says there is plenty of evidence that air pollution regulations produce lots of benefits. Some are predictable and some not. They include fewer infant deaths and higher real estate values, because people like to live in places with cleaner air.

Elizabeth Shogren. NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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