July 24, 1997 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

ED072497a: Cleaning Clean Air Cleaner

Any American who thinks Washington is starting to make sense needs to take a closer look at the Clinton administration's new - and unnecessary - clean air rules.

I'm all for clean air. But these rules are so nit-picky they're just plain silly. They've been blasted as unnecessary by scientists, economists, small business, big industry, unions, big- and small-city mayors, governors, state legislatures, and just about everybody except Vice President Al Gore, who'd shut down Western civilization to save a hoot-owl. The rules show once again that liberal elitists in government will do exactly what they want, despite evidence to the contrary, and the people be damned.

To listen to the White House and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner, a protégé of Professor of Environmental Alarmism Gore, you'd think defeat of the new rules would mean a world of choking, chunky, coughing, wheezing, dark-and-dirty disgusting air you wouldn't wish on a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

But if that were true, why would organized labor team up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- avowed enemies on nearly every other issue -- to oppose them? These groups, and a host of others, point out that the environmental rules now on the books are working. All we need to do is keep the current rules in place, and the air will become even cleaner as older cars are replaced with newer models and industrial technology is updated and improved. To impose even stricter rules now is unnecessarily costly in terms of jobs lost and money wasted.

The new rules deal with ozone, a component of smog, and "particulate matter," a technobabble term for microscopic bits of soot in the air. The air is so full of these pollutants, the EPA's Browner alleges, that thousands of lives are threatened -- either 20,000 or 25,000; the EPA has used both figures. The most likely victims of the filth-filled air (you can find this in the standard liberal playbook, in the "victimhood" section) are, of course, children: in this case, those suffering from asthma.

But think about it: If the EPA's claims were true, "particulate matter" would have killed hundreds of thousands of children by now -- the cumulative total from decades of inhaled soot. Where are these victims? Why weren't they tallied up as part of EPA's lobbying effort? As it turns out, the only thing choking America is the hot air emanating from Washington.

The new regulations, if Congress allows them to stand, would, indeed, affect the public health: by increasing joblessness. And we all know what happens to health insurance when people lose their jobs. The regs will require the expenditure of huge amounts of money -- as much as $150 billion, according to highly credible estimates -- to achieve tiny improvements in air quality that will likely take place anyway over time.

Remember, regulatory costs are just another form of taxation. Whether the new regulations cost $6 billion, as Browner says, $60 billion, as White House economists say, or $150 billion, as others have said, this is money that could be spent on other things: to help find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, or cancer; to buy food for the family or shoes for the kids; to pay for another class at the local college; to expand a small business.

As Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, which represents some 46,000 black-owned businesses, put it: "We believe these new rules will be so expensive to implement that they will literally suck the capital out of small businesses ... That means it will take more money to start up and then run one of these businesses where becoming an entrepreneur is already hard enough."

Professor Gore should put that in his pipe, smoke it, and quit saddling the nation with unnecessary economic burdens.

#15
July 24, 1997

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Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

 

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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Related Issues: Energy and Environment