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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