President Barack Obama seems more concerned with appeasing environmental extremists in his administration than he is with the lost jobs of poor Americans. He’s letting the environmentalists run wild with long pent-up schemes to force a change in the American way of life that includes small cars, small apartments and, for many, a return to an idealized 19th century lifestyle. It’s not China that’s responsible for American job losses; it’s Washington’s fault for shutting down whole industries and preventing new jobs from being created.
What’s happened is that Obama has given the environmental extremists the power to make some of their wish list come true. Modern measurement techniques allow scientists to measure tiny parts per million; much of the technology did not exist when the Clean Air Act was first legislated in 1990. Using these new techniques environmentalists are able to impose their fantasies upon American business and labor. For industry, removing the last parts per million is prohibitively costly. For instance, technology which could have removed the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was prohibited by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because the discharged ocean water would still contain more than 15 parts per million of oil.
When the American economy was growing fast these EPA job killers were not so damaging. Now, in slower times, they are proving deadly.
Below are eight areas where the environmental extremists hope to wreak havoc on the American economy.
Carbon Dioxide. Human activity accounts for less than 4 percent of global CO2 emissions and CO2 itself accounts for only 10 or 20 percent of the greenhouse effect. Water vapor accounts for most of the other 80 percent. The actual quantity of C02 in the Earth's atmosphere is about 0.0387 percent, or 387 parts per million. The Christian Science Monitor recently published an excellent analysis of how the EPA’s plans for reducing carbon dioxide could cause the loss of over a million jobs and raise every family’s energy costs by over $1,200.
Factory boilers. The EPA wants new, more stringent limits on soot emissions from industrial and factory boilers. This would cost $9.5 billion according to the EPA, or over $20 billion according to the American Chemistry Council. A study released by the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners says the new rules would put 300,000 to 800,000 jobs at risk as industries opted to close plants rather than pay the expensive new costs. The ruling includes boilers used in manufacturing, processing, mining, and refining, as well as shopping malls, laundromats, apartments, restaurants, and hotels.
Home Remodeling. Some contractors are refusing to work on houses built before 1979 (when lead paint use was discontinued) because of stringent new EPA permitting required for lead paint removal. Lead paint in powdered or edible form can hurt growing children. It was once used in the hard gloss paint for wood surfaces, but has been painted over with non-lead-based paint during the past 30 years. The new fines of $37,000 per day are ruinous for smaller contractors and individual workers. Many jobs will therefore not be created as smaller contractors stop replacing window frames or turn down other work where lead paint may be present.
Ground Level Ozone. AutoBlog reports that the EPA has asked the U.S. government to enact draconian new smog regulations for ground-level ozone. The request to cut levels to .006 to .007 parts per million comes less than two years after standards were set at .0075 particles of pollutants per one million. As AutoBlog notes, “That doesn't sound like a very big change, but the New York Times reports that the agency quotes the price tag of such a change at between $19 billion and $100 billion per year by 2020. Oil manufacturers, manufacturing and utility companies are the main source of air pollution and they will have to spend heavily to meet the proposed regulation.”
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The Fish and Wildlife Service is drawing up plans that define more parts of ANWR as “wilderness” thereby permanently removing any possibility for oil drilling in the vast field. The full Alaskan nature reserve is the size of South Carolina while the proposed drilling area would be the size of Dulles Airport.
Alaska Oil. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has prohibited all off-shore drilling until further notice, although Shell Oil and others’ proposed sites are in less than 150 feet of water and use fixed drilling platforms, not the floating kind used for deep water in the Gulf of Mexico. Potentially vast oil fields and the accompanying jobs are therefore on hold.
Cement Kiln Regulations. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who led the fight to expose so called man-made global warming, warns of a new EPA job-killing plan. “EPA’s new cement kiln regulation could shut down 18 plants, threatening 1,800 direct jobs and 9,000 indirect jobs,” he writes. “According to an analysis of EPA’s rule by King’s College (London) Professor Ragnar Lofstedt, EPA could send 28 million tons of U.S. cement production offshore, mainly to China.”
The above are all large-scale restrictions. There are also many smaller, mostly unreported new regulations. A Heritage Foundation study describes 43 such restrictions imposed during 2010 and totaled up their cost as well over $26 billion. As Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) complained before her defeat, farmers, ranchers, and foresters “are increasingly frustrated and bewildered by vague, overreaching, and unnecessarily burdensome EPA regulations, each of which will add to their costs, making it harder for them to compete.”
Gulf of Mexico Oil. While Salazar ostensibly lifted his illegal and unnecessary suspension of all oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, we don’t yet know if he has put up interminable, cost-wrecking regulations in the ban’s place. Just one of his changes, allowing government bureaucrats 90 days instead of the prior 30 days to issue every decision, may be enough to ruin future oil drilling. The big floating rigs rent for over half a million dollars a day to operate. Just the threat of non-decisions along the chain of government command may be fatal and do to oil drilling what the environmentalists did to nuclear energy—namely, shutting down all new plants by making the costs and risks prohibitive. Michael Bromwich, Salazar’s director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said that there were only 10 new well permits pending, but according to The Washington Post there were 69 unapproved exploration and development plans sitting in his office. Even simple, continued drilling in already producing oil sands, where the geological conditions are measured and known, has been suspended.
Salazar also suspended shallow well drilling in less than 500 feet depth from fixed platforms. Washington only issued 13 such shallow well permits in the seven months since the Macondo blowout in April. Before that it was issuing about 13 shallow well permits per month. As is often the case with Washington’s heavy-handed regulators, it is the smaller companies, doing less costly drilling closer to shore, that are bankrupted or driven out of business by these costly and burdensome rules. All this comes after 40 years of successful drilling without a major blowout or spill.
Government restrictions and environmentalist lawsuits also affect other mining activity. For example, there is currently a shortage in Chinese rare earth elements, which are essential to a number of technologies, including hard drives and environmentalist-friendly hybrid-car batteries. Yet despite an abundance of rare earth reserves in the U.S., domestic production has been essentially shut down by the president’s allies.
It’s time for Congress to investigate what the EPA and its reckless agenda is costing American workers, businesses, and taxpayers.
Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative. He was a foreign correspondent for Knight Ridder newspapers and former associate editor of The Times of the Americas. For 17 years, he was a commentator for the Voice of America. In the 1980s, he owned and operated a small oil drilling partnership in Pennsylvania. This column first appeared at Reason.com.