The debate about regulations, in particular those aimed at reducing pollution, has repeated the standard charge that such actions impose costs with no benefits. This claim ignores the costly reality of health impacts from pollutants such as mercury and ground-level ozone.
But it also distorts the economic benefits of effective regulation to protect the health of people and our environment. Utilization of the best available technologies generally involves improvements in efficiency of production, with benefits for the bottom line. But it also can generate employment, contrary to the claim that regulation is a “job-killer.”
An important case study can be found here in Louisiana during the Roemer administration (1988-1992). At that time, Louisiana led the nation in toxic discharges and had one of the highest unemployment rates (12 percent). Gov. Buddy Roemer, working with Secretary of Environmental Quality Paul Templet, significantly strengthened regulations protecting Louisiana’s air, land, water and people. Many of the usual claims were raised in objection: Jobs would be lost, industry would decline or leave the state and our economy would suffer.
The impacts were exactly the opposite — while emissions were reduced 50 percent, unemployment dropped to 6 percent. Orders for equipment and technology were filled, and people were hired to install them. Louisiana’s economy improved, along with its quality of life, which itself has an economic multiplier effect.
A number of studies documented these results, including several by Templet, who utilized his firsthand experience along with his scientific expertise (http://www.theharbinger.org/articles/sus_dev/temp1.html and http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/working_papers/working_papers_1-50/WP12.pdf).
Despite their benefits, these policies have not been embraced in Louisiana, largely because of political influence and, in more recent years, anti-government ideology. At the national level, those two factors are stronger by orders of magnitude — as are their negative effects on human and environmental health, as well as the economy.
Marylee Orr, executive director
Louisiana Environmental Action Network