History 101: Pollution rules good for economy and pocketbooks

Source: Flickr/Ervins Strauhmanis

This blog originally appeared on EDF Voices

So our political landscape is morphing yet again, and the future looks uncertain. But there are some things we know will happen over and over, like rituals.

We know that next time it snows, someone will make a tired joke about how global warming must be over. And next time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveils another plan to reduce air pollution and protect public health, opponents will claim it’ll cost a fortune and ruin our economy.

I'm sure they're now trying to sell a recent study claiming that EPA’s plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants will hit consumers, when the best available data points to the complete opposite.

History shows that opponents of environmental regulations consistently miss the mark on costs.

Economic benefits of clean air offsets costs, by far

The benefits of the Clean Air Act and its amendments, which have been around since 1970 and 1990, have outweighed costs 30 to 1.

In fact, EPA estimates that in 2020, the Clean Air Act amendments will prevent 230,000 early deaths. The monetized benefits are expected to approach $2 trillion by 2020.

And still, when the amendments were first enacted, opponents claimed they would be financially ruinous. They said the same thing about efforts to limit acid rain pollution.

When in reality, we achieved the Acid Rain Program reductions in less time, and for less money, than anyone expected.

As states implement the Clean Power Plan, look for environmental regulations to prove themselves cost-effective once again. Early benefit-cost analyses of the plan show net benefits (benefits minus costs) of almost $70 billion annually by 2030.

Smart energy choices pay off

There’s also plenty of evidence that EPA is not the reason for the coal industry’s decline, or for the economic struggle in coal-producing states. The real story is that coal is losing to cheaper natural gas in the marketplace.

Clean energy sources and energy conservation are also emerging forces in what used to be coal’s monopoly market – and they’re providing benefits for both our wallets and our lungs. Between 2008 and 2013, savings from utilities' energy efficiency programs rose 116 percent, and power from renewables more than doubled.

But the best argument against the “sky-is-falling” frenzy is to look at the alternative.

Right now, the United States has no national limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

Climate change is expensive

Carbon pollution is the main underlying cause of climate change, and power plants are America’s single biggest source of carbon pollution. Climate change is already costing us, and will cost a lot more in the future.

The latest IPCC report lists some of the many ways that climate change puts humanity at risk – through heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea-level rise, storm surges and threatened food supplies.

The National Climate Assessment says “climate change threatens human health and well-being.” The Pentagon, meanwhile, calls climate change a “threat multiplier” that will affect national security.

Continuing to allow unlimited carbon pollution is the expensive and irresponsible option.

Time to act

The Clean Power Plan will set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. It will protect public health and the environment, and help us avoid the worst damage from climate change – and it will do so without costing anywhere near what opponents are claiming it will.

In fact, EPA estimates that by 2030, when the Clean Power Plan is fully implemented, electricity bills will be about 8 percent lower than they would have been otherwise. That would save Americans about $8 on an average monthly residential electricity bill.

So we can afford the Clean Power Plan. In fact, we can’t afford a future without it.

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