Monthly Archives: March 2011

For Business, It’s Not Necessary to Delay the Clean Air Act

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act are vital for our health, our children’s health, and the avoidance of the most dangerous and expensive consequences of climate change.

In spite of that urgency, some businesses are arguing for delay. They claim that new regulations will hurt jobs and the economic recovery. Extensive data refutes these claims, but perhaps the most credible counter-arguments are those made by businesses that disagree.

In a March 1 article in Politico Pro, reporter Darren Samuelsohn interviewed business leaders who “didn’t sound so thrilled” about legislation to pre-empt EPA authority:

“The leaders — from American Electric Power, NextEra Energy, Southern Co. and Dominion Resources — said to varying degrees that they support allowing the EPA to proceed on a ‘reasonable’ time frame on greenhouse gas rules for power plants, petroleum refiners and other major stationary sources.” 

The business community is not monolithic, of course. And it’s no surprise that companies that are innovative are often rewarded with long-term growth.

Recently, the ArcelorMittal steel mill in East Chicago, Indiana, built on-site energy plants to capture heat and gases. The mill reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by about 916,000 metric tons. That’s about the same amount as 166,000 cars and all of the grid-connected solar panels in the world. At the same time, the mill cut as much as $100 million a year in energy costs — and that allowed ArcelorMittal to allocate more money to jobs and investment. 

West Virginia Alloys, a silicon manufacturer, used a similar project to capture waste heat and generate enough electricity on-site to power one-third of its furnaces. The project reduced carbon dioxide emissions by almost 300,000 tons – and at the same time, enabled the plant to increase its workforce by 20 percent.

Companies that fear change typically spend their time and energy fighting change – not on finding the most strategic responses to changing business conditions.

McKinsey and Company and the Department of Energy (DOE) are among those who have collected data showing the plethora of untapped efficiency opportunities being ignored by American industry today. (See some of that data, and helpful case studies, at

Here are some highlights:

  • McKinsey found that the U.S. industrial sector can reduce annual energy consumption 18 percent by 2020 and save more than $442 billion in energy costs billion in major sectors such as refineries, chemicals, cement, iron and steel, pulp and paper, for an upfront investment of barely more than a quarter of that amount.
  • If the pulp and paper sector, alone, seized the economically attractive opportunities identified by McKinsey and Company, they could reduce energy use by 26 percent and save an estimated $2.6 billion per year.
  • Until recently, U.S. industrial plants didn’t know how energy efficient they were (or weren’t) compared to their competitors So the Energy Star for Industry program created a benchmarking tool to allow companies get that information. The results show that many plants have significant room for improvement. For example, the gap between the average plant’s performance and the best in class plant’s performance is 198 kilowatts per hour more electricity used per assembled vehicle. (That figure takes into account the differences in product, as well as plant capacity, utilization, and location). That’s about as much as what the average U.S. household  uses in electricity each week.
  • The University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute looked at the impact on new EPA pollution control rules on the utility sector. They found that the new rules will drive an estimated 1.46 million jobs, or about 290,000 on average in each of the next five years. Other University of Massachusetts studies found that clean energy and energy efficiency are more labor intensive than spending on conventional fossil fuels.

Given over-capacity and capital on the sidelines, now is actually the perfect time to invest in making the current infrastructure cleaner, more efficient, more globally competitive, and ready for the recovery. Investing will be good for the workforce and for customers, and while shareholders may see a little less profit this year, they will see more in the long-run.

Businesses that insist they have to pollute do not represent all businesses. Lots of American businesses are already taking advantage of the opportunities in clean energy and energy efficiency.  If we support them, instead of the businesses that can only handle the status quo, we can create an economic recovery for the long-haul.

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The Clean Air Act: Good for Our Health AND Our Economy

The Clean Air Act and its amendments prevent millions of premature deaths, significantly reduce illnesses, and save trillions of dollars for American families. But  those in Congress who are working to stall EPA actions still claim that Clean Air Act regulations are too costly. Fortunately there’s some new and conclusive evidence to show that they’re wrong.

The EPA’s just-released cost-benefit analysis of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments leaves no room for argument:  we simply cannot afford a world without regulations on the harmful pollution that the Clean Air Act is designed to fight. 

This comes as no surprise. The Clean Air Act has been saving lives, improving the health of American children, and saving us trillions of dollars for years now.  But this report is a new and definitive confirmation of just how critical this law is to the health of the American people — and to our economy.  

EPA sets a gold standard in economic modeling with this report . It provides an excellent, no-nonsense analysis of both the costs of complying with the Clean Air Act Amendments and the benefits. Benefits are the clear winner. From 1990 to 2020, they manifest in the form of avoided premature deaths, reduction in illnesses and associated health care costs, and improved ecological and welfare impacts (like increased agricultural yields and better visibility conditions)

The report finds that, at the central estimate, and after taking costs into account, the net benefits of the Clean Air Act Amendments are $12 trillion in present value. Yes, that’s TRILLION.  

The report also finds that the benefits of the Clean Air Act outweigh the costs by a factor of more than 30 to one.  Let me say that again:  30 to one.  And that’s a more modest estimate; the reports high benefits estimate exceeds costs by 90 times.  

These estimates don’t even account for some benefits that are more difficult to monetize, such as health effects from air toxics, and chronic respiratory diseases other than chronic bronchitis.  They also don’t mention the pain and suffering associated with illnesses, so the benefits estimate should be seen as conservative.  

Let’s look at one of the most important results:  health impacts.  Last year alone, the Clean Air Act Amendments saved more than 160,000 lives, prevented more than 85,000 emergency room visits, prevented millions of cases of respiratory problems (including bronchitis and asthma), enhanced productivity by preventing 13 million lost workdays, and prevented 3.2 million lost school days (just to name a few of the benefits).

In the year 2020, the Clean Air Act Amendments are projected to prevent more than 230,000 early deaths and provide benefits reaching approximately $2 trillion.  All of which makes it mind-boggling that opponents in Congress continue to push back against this successful law.

The enormous benefits of the Clean Air Act are nothing new.  EPA’s earlier cost-benefit analysis of the law, from the years 1970 to 1990, showed that the net benefits in present value over the period were nearly $22 trillion, and that the benefits outweighed the costs by 40 to one.

Here’s more good news:  protecting children from neurotoxins now will give us workers with higher IQs later — and that’s something that also turns out to come with real economic benefits. The latest study by Harvard’s Dale Jorgenson and his co-authors shows that the Clean Air Act has boosted productivity and growth: Gross Domestic Product in 2010 is up to 1.5% higher than it would have been without the Clean Air Act. 

The bottom line is that the Clean Air Act and its amendments have left Americans enormously better off – in terms of health, productivity, and economic growth.  Why stop now?

Posted in Clean Air Act, Economics, Health, Policy / Read 1 Response