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In 1969, untreated industrial waste burst into flames on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga river. It ignited not just the river, but a burgeoning environmental movement. The following year, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency. Twenty years later with similar bipartisan support, America’s environmental laws were strengthened even more through far-reaching amendments to the Clean Air Act. Now, that kind of broad political backing for the EPA and its mission seems to have all but dried up. As part of our Environmental Outlook series we discuss why the agency and its mission have become so politicized.
- Robin Bravender environment reporter, Politico.
- Frances Beinecke president, Natural Resources Defense Council; former member of the National Oil Spill Commission.
- David Conover senior vice-president, Bipartisan Policy Center; formerly at the Department of Energy as director of the agency's climate change technology program and as principal deputy assistant secretary for policy and international affairs; former staff director and chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
- Jeff Holmstead former assistant administrator for air and radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency (2001-05); now heads the environmental strategy section at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. On Friday, in a major blow to the EPA, President Obama scrapped a major EPA regulation that would have tightened smog control. Joining me to talk about why the EPA seems to have lost the support of politicians and industry, Frances Beinecke, she's president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Jeff Holmstead, he's head of the environmental strategy section at Bracewell & Giuliani, Robin Bravender from Politico.com and David Conover from the Bipartisan Policy Center.
MS. DIANE REHMI look forward to hearing your comments on this issue. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. JEFF HOLMSTEADGood morning.
MS. FRANCES BEINECKEGood morning.
MR. DAVID CONOVERGood morning.
MS. ROBIN BRAVENDERGood morning.
REHMRobin Bravender, if I could start with you, what happened on Friday and tell us what it means?
BRAVENDEROn Friday morning, in a move that, I think, took most observers by surprise, the White House came out with a short statement from the president saying that he was no longer planning to move forward to tighten the smog standards or the ozone standards set by the Bush administration, which Lisa Jackson had said she was going to do given that the EPA science advisors, the independent advisory board had said that tighter levels were needed to protect public health back in 2008.
BRAVENDERAnd so the president said on Friday that he was no longer planning to do that, in part due to economic concerns. And the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Cass Sunstein, wrote a letter to EPA basically saying because of economic concerns, we're not going to be doing this right now. We will wait until the next scheduled review in 2013, which is past the 2012 election.
REHMFrances Beinecke, did you see that as an economic decision or a political one?
BEINECKEI think it was totally a political decision. I think it was a disaster really for the health of the country. The science has shown us that these standards need to be tightened up. The EPA has done all the preliminary work to tighten up those standards.
REHMSo why do you think he did it?
BEINECKEI think the president has been hammered by the Republican members of Congress, particularly on regulatory burdens for weeks and weeks, if not months. And in this case, I think the president made a real mistake putting the interests of polluters over the interests of the public.
REHMJeff Holmstead, how do you see it?
HOLMSTEADWell, I agree it was probably largely political, but also economic. There's no doubt that a lot of the new regulatory requirements from EPA over the last few years have had an impact on job growth and so I think the president felt he needed to indicate that he was sensitive to those concerns.
REHMDavid Conover, what's your view?
CONOVERWell, this is what presidents do. EPA's job is to set standards under the Clean Air Act without regard to cost. Implementation activities do bring cost into the mix, but EPA's, you know, duty under the Clean Air Act is very clear. The president has a duty to balance those environmental values with jobs and economic growth. And of course, last Friday, we also got the very disturbing news that there were zero net jobs created in the month of August so from my perspective, it's an understandable decision particularly in light of the other suite of environmental regulations that are coming down the pipe.
CONOVERThis is one, as Robin said, it's going to be revisited in 2013 in any event. And while it was a surprise to me as well, it is, in some ways, understandable.
REHMIt also came at a time when there was a protest outside the White House regarding this tar sands oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf coast. What's the significance of that ruling and/or that question and this ruling coming simultaneously?
BRAVENDERI think it's just a signal from the White House that they're looking at economic concerns and trying to make a very big push, that they're looking at jobs and regulations and energy and maybe willing to sacrifice the support of some environmentalists in order to make a push, that they're willing to push for jobs in the economy at a time when it's such a big issue.
REHMSo Frances Beinecke, do you buy that argument?
BEINECKEWell, Diane, I think over the last two weeks, 1250 people have engaged in an act of civil disobedience in front of the White House and been arrested. I think that demonstrates the growing anger in the environmental community about the direction of the Obama administration on environment protection. What will be very interesting is, the decision on the Keystone Pipeline will be the president's decision and I know there's a lot of hope and there will be a lot of very intense activity in the coming weeks to really demand that the president makes the right environment decision on Keystone.
BEINECKEThere are other pipelines bringing tar sands in. This goes right over the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska, a very important water resource for the nation. So these things have to be weighed. They have to be balanced and the environment and public health has to be protected. So as the president makes this decision on ozone, which we think is a terrible decision, it will be, from our point of view, imperative that he make very strong decisions going forward on the additional clean air regulations, which Dave alluded to, as well as on Keystone.
REHMWell, to what extent are pressures from Republicans who are battling any and all regulations regarding the EPA or indeed some other agencies, David Conover, at the heart of the president's actions?
CONOVERWell, sure, that has an impact. The difference between the ozone regulation and some of the other clean air act regulations that are also pending is that that regulation lends itself well to the rhetoric about anti-jobs, anti-economy. A majority of the counties in the country would have been found to be in non-compliance immediately after the issuance of the rule and that has implications for construction jobs. It has implications for manufacturing jobs. It has implications across the economy that lent themselves well to the kind of heated rhetoric that, unfortunately, we've been seeing from both sides in these debates for the last several years.
REHMDavid Conover, he's with the Bipartisan Policy Center, Robin Bravender, an environment reporter for Politico, Jeff Holmstead, he is at the Environmental Protection Agency, or was from 2001 to 2005. He now heads the environmental strategy section at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP and Frances Beinecke is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and that's Natural. And we will take your calls, 800-433-8850. David Conover, you grew up in Ohio in the '60s. You saw the effects of the unrated, unregulated industry firsthand. Tell us about that.
CONOVERWell, in Appalachian, Ohio, of course, back then you had -- and West Virginia, which was just across the border, you had strip mining as a widely-conducted practice. In the '70s, one of the primary motivations for our nation's environmental laws was the fact that the Cuyahoga River caught fire.
CONOVERWe had, at the same time, roughly the Love Canal situation with toxic waste and shortly thereafter, acid rain killing pine trees in New England. There was a great deal of support for environmental protection, environmental regulation in the 1970s and frankly, we've had a great deal of success in this country due to those sets of laws and implementation under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
CONOVEROne of the issues today is those laws haven't been revisited, in some cases for decades. The original Clean Air Act passed in 1972. It took about ten years to create a strong set of amendments in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments and it's hard to argue with the proposition that times have changed. Our science has gotten much more precise. Our economy has gotten much more dependent upon energy and electricity and there's a strong case to be made that the Clean Air Act ought to be examined and ought to be examined in the light of new challenges like climate change.
CONOVERSo part of the challenge today, I think, is that the average American who looks around, who is not burdened with respiratory illnesses, otherwise generally healthy, thinks the environment is in pretty good shape and they hear news reports about billions of dollars to be spent on additional environment protections. It needs to be explained to them just exactly what those public health implications are that justify those kinds of costs.
BEINECKEWell, you know, it's interesting. I mean, I think -- and you know we have polls that show -- the American Lung Association did a poll in June that showed that 75 percent of the people in the country expected that smog standards should be strengthened to protect public health. Sixty-six percent believed that EPA is the agency to do that and EPA's decisions should be based on science.
BEINECKEI think that particularly the political world of Washington is, in many ways, out of touch with what the American public believes they're entitled to as an American citizen, how their health should be protected. The result of this decision is that there will be thousands of children, thousands of elderly who are victims of our inability to protect their health and decide with the polluters. And I think that is a serious problem for what the country should stand for, how to have a prosperous and successful nation. I think it's a serious issue that's open to public debate.
HOLMSTEADWell, I agree, I think, with Frances that it is a serious issue that's open to public debate. But as David pointed out, we've made enormous progress and the problem is we've really gotten all of the low-hanging fruit. The additional things that EPA wants to do could turn out to be much more expensive and have much smaller incremental benefit and so we're having a debate over whether we need to draw the line kind of where we are today or whether we spend a lot more time and effort.
REHMJeff Holmstead, he is with Bracewell & Giuliani. We are going to take your calls, your e-mail after a short break. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the EPA, the most recent actions by President Obama not to implement a smog rule on Friday that has angered many in the environmental movement. Here in the studio, Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Jeff Holmstead, he's former assistant administrator for air and radiation at the EPA, that was from 2001 to 2005. Robin Bravender is environmental reporter for Politico. David Conover is senior vice-president at the Bipartisan Policy Center. He's a former Republican staff member with the Senate committee on environment and public works.
REHMRobin Bravender, what are the main criticisms of the EPA today?
BRAVENDERUnder the Obama Administration, we've heard a lot of industry groups and Republican lawmakers complain that the CPA's taking actions that just go above and beyond what EPA's job is in regulating too far. And they're saying that it costs too much, that the benefits aren't worth what the cost is to the economy and to job creation.
REHMCan you give me a specific example?
BRAVENDERFor example, this ozone standard, industry groups have been going up to the White House. It's estimated to cost up to $90 billion annually if they had set it at the toughest level advocated by the EPA. And that would've put counties across the country into noncompliance with the standard. And critics of the rule were just saying this is not the time to be imposing that type of standard for the benefits that you'd get from it.
REHMYou know, it's interesting. We have an e-mail from Bennett who's in San Antonio, Texas, who says in the 1940s he used to drive through Wheeling, West Virginia and he could not see the sun, but everybody was working. What do you think about that, Frances Beinecke?
BEINECKEWell, I think that we've made tremendous progress in air quality and our economy has changed over time, too. There's a lot of manufacturing for the country that is done in other countries. And I think that one of the opportunities in really looking at how do you create jobs in America, which is something that has got to be at the top of everybody's priority list, it's how do you -- how do you invest in infrastructure in the country? How do you invest in green technologies? How do you invest in those jobs that will be good for the country and keep pollution loads down?
BEINECKEI mean, I think, yes, maybe more people were -- I'm sure not more people were working 'cause we have more people overall now than we certainly had in the '40s, but the unemployment levels are high. But we have to figure out what are the jobs of the future in this country that benefit people and don't take us back to an era when people were dying from pollution, which is exactly the way we were before we put in the environmental protections that started under the Nixon Administration.
BEINECKEAll the major laws were passed when President Nixon was the president and they've been implemented and enforced, you know, I would say up and down over the years. But overall, we've had very good (word?) benefits resulting from that.
REHMJeff Holmstead, are there those who would like to do away with the EPA altogether?
HOLMSTEADI don't think there's any serious policy analyst who would like to do that. We hear some political speeches along those lines certainly, but I certainly don't advocate that. And I don't know of anyone, as I say, who's a serious policy analyst who does.
HOLMSTEADI think the big criticism is that there are much better ways of achieving our environmental goals than the way we do today. And the way we do many of our environmental programs today do cost jobs, significant jobs.
REHMGive me an example.
HOLMSTEADWell, the administration, in tackling climate change, which is a serious issue, has chosen to do it through a permitting process so that anybody who wants to build a new industrial or any kind of a manufacturing facility has to go through an EPA process. EPA, when they started that process, that it was going to be reasonable. We anticipate that we'll be issuing about 1600 permits a year for people to build new things. Well, that program came in place in January of this year and so far they've issued three permits.
HOLMSTEADSo the number of permits that historically get issued is hundreds a year. In this year -- and it's partly because of the economy, it's because of a lot of things, but it's also because it's very, very difficult to go through this detailed process with multiple levels of review. And people just are not able to build new manufacturing, new industrial facilities. And so we've seen a big drop off in those kinds of jobs.
REHMHow do you...
HOLMSTEADAnd it's caused by environmental regulations.
REHM...how do you respond to that, Frances?
BEINECKEWell, I think that Jeff's comment on greenhouse gas control is a little disingenuous because there was a very major effort a year ago to get legislation, which could've been a new approach to how you manage major pollutant greenhouse gas emissions. In the end, it's going to be EPA's responsibility to do that as resulting from a decision of the Supreme Court which decided that EPA had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
BEINECKEBut there was an alternative. The alternative would've been to have Congress act and design a more comprehensive approach. They didn't do it. Air pollution still happens to be a problem. Carbon dioxide is a huge problem for the planet and EPA has the responsibility to address that. They're doing the best job they can in...
BEINECKE...under the circumstances that they are given. And they're given those circumstances because Congress chose not to act.
HOLMSTEADBut if -- but the fact that Congress chose not to do something is not a very good reason to impose an impossible burden on the U.S. economy. I mean, I don't understand the connection. There are ways for us to deal with serious environmental problems. There are thoughtful productive ways and then there are ways that really have not benefited anyone.
REHMBut, Robin Bravender, is it fair to say that Republicans, most especially those on the conservative end, would like to do away with EPA altogether?
BRAVENDERI don't think that's actually true. There are a few Republican candidates, presidential candidates in particular, who have brought that up. But when you look at the Congress as a whole, there are people who depend -- in every district, who depend on EPA for clean water funds. And they like these clean air funds and things that benefit them locally they really like about EPA. It's just some of these more controversial issues, like greenhouse gases and things like that where they're divided.
REHMInteresting that Fred Upton, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, joked at the beginning of the year that he was going to have Lisa Jackson testifying so often she was going to need her own parking bay. You've got Newt Gingrich saying the EPA ought to be abolished. You have Rick Perry who wants to impose an immediate moratorium on environmental regulation. You've got Ron Paul who wants environmental disputes settled by the states of the courts.
REHMYou know, it's out there. It's out there. Let's get rid of the EPA. It costs us too much in the way of jobs. It costs us too much in the way of dollars. Certainly you'd have to acknowledge, David Conover, the sentiment is there.
CONOVERWell, there's certainly people who like to make headlines in attacking EPA and attacking other federal agencies as well. But I think the important point is that there is no expectation that serious rollbacks of environmental laws is likely to succeed in this Congress with a divided government between Republicans controlling the House and Democrats controlling the Senate.
CONOVERAnd in a dif...
REHM...Republicans take over both?
CONOVERYou've got the veto pen of the president that he will no doubt wield. What we need to remember is that, as Jeff said earlier, there's been a lot -- and Frances both -- we all agree a lot of progress has been made under environmental regulations and environmental statutes. What we're talking about now are going after those last molecules, going over those last grams at increasingly large expense.
CONOVERAnd it's the onuses on all of us in the policy community to explain why that expense is justified. And when you can't, then decisions like Friday occur. The president steps in and says there are other ways to do this. We have a whole other set of environmental regulations on the power sector that are coming down the pike. We're going to get those gains from those regulations and we're going to revisit the ozone standards in 2013.
REHMRobin Bravender, Eric Cantor sent out a memo in August outlining a legislative schedule for thwarting job-destroying regulations, including a number of EPA rules. So is that one way that Republicans could limit the reach of the EPA?
BRAVENDERI think they'd like to and I think, even more so, they'd like to make the statement that they are trying to limit EPA's reach. But ultimately most of these efforts are not going to go anywhere in the Senate. A few of them have enough support from Senate Democrats that they have a chance to get through, but still you face the veto threat of the president.
BRAVENDERI think more what the Republicans are trying to do is make a political statement with these and possibly get some of them through in some of the larger spending packages and things like that.
REHMHow concerned are you, Frances?
BEINECKEWell, I am concerned about it. I think that you've alluded to the very broad range of attacks on EPA and on public health protections that they're responsible for. I thought that Eric Cantor's memo, which was a jobs proposal really, was anything but. It was basically targeting a set of regulations rather than proposing how to get jobs created in America. It was sort of not at all what it was let on to be.
BEINECKEAnd, you know, I think that it's very important that the public be assured that their health is protected. Dave alluded to, you know, a number of regulations coming down. Certainly, the mercury rule is something that people are very concerned about. They're concerned about their kids' health. They're concerned about mercury in fish, mercury in water, mercury in air. These are coming from power plants across America.
BEINECKEWe have a whole series of aging power plants that have -- whose lives have continued decade after decade that ought to be retired. And hopefully, as these regulations come out, we'll make investments in cleaner energy sources, more efficient energy sources. And these big old dirty power plants will be closed down, as they should be, so that we can have a modern energy system in the country, which we don't have now.
CONOVERLet's not forget that it is Congress' responsibility to oversee the execution of the laws. And so I think it's actually a good thing that we're going to have a debate about some of these regulations in the House of Representatives. That we're going to have a debate about some of these regulations in the United States Senate. At the end of the day, I agree with Robin, we're not likely to see repeal of regulations or strong restrictions on EPA actually signed into law. But let's have the debate. Let's get the facts out there and let's serve the American public in doing so.
HOLMSTEADI just wanted to, I think, raise a point that Frances mentioned. One of the big differences in the last couple of years with EPA is there does seem to be an effort to use regulations to shut down these old plants. And that's not -- EPA is supposed to be about setting appropriate regulations that strike the right balance between public health and our other needs. If we were to shut down all those coal-fired power plants that they provide 50 percent of our power, it would cause huge increases for rate payers. It would cost a lot of jobs and economic opportunity. And I think part of the problem is there's just been so much overreach in the last two years.
REHMJeff Holmstead, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Frances, you wanted to add that.
BEINECKEWell, I think that the main thing is that EPA does a very thorough job in reviewing these regulations. And Jeff knows it because he was at EPA. There's a lot of scientific review and then they do a review of the clause as well. And they're very focused on how to do this as efficiently as possible while fulfilling their mandate under the Clean Air Act.
BEINECKESo I think that EPA deserves tremendous credit for the job that they have done on behalf of the American public and the job that they have to do going forward. And it is important that you figure out what the cost of these things are. But we do need a modern system of energy production in this country. And we don't have one because the power -- the utilities have been able to keep these dirty old plants going for decades beyond their useable life.
BEINECKEAnd, you know, a year ago -- I think it was about a year ago a number of the utility execs wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal where they recognized that regulation was part of the system that they were part of. And what they wanted was predictability to know what would be expected of them. None of these regulations are new in the Obama Administration. They've all been in the works for decades. They are a result of many court-ordered deadlines, other issues that have come down the pike.
BEINECKENone of these are a surprise to anyone in the industry that they are targeting -- or not targeting -- that they're responsible for. And, you know, I just think that the industries -- the polluting industries see an opportunity now with this Congress to try to really change the game. And they're using every ounce of their power to do that. And it's our responsibility, certainly in the environmental community, to try to stop that from happening.
REHMAll right. Let's take some calls, 800-433-8850. First to Susan. She's in Bristol, Va. Good morning to you.
SUSANGood morning. I am a steroid-dependent asthmatic living on the edge of the coal fields. And in the summertime, I look at the EPA website color coded for air pollution to see how far the dog gets to go for a walk. And I’m outraged that people are upset about nuclear power when 30,000 people a year in the southeast are dying from heart attacks and strokes from particulate pollution.
REHMWho wants to take that?
BEINECKEWell, I'll take it. This is Frances. I think -- you know, this is -- you're exactly the kind of person that this ozone standard was designed to protect. And I think it's a tragedy that it won't be there to help you.
CONOVERWell, I actually heard the caller talk about nuclear power and there are, of course, cleaner burning sources than coal. And Frances and Jeff both made the point earlier about the suite of environmental regulations coming down the pike. We've got -- about a third of the coal plants out there are over 40 years old and lack pollution control equipment. A lot of those are going to be retired anyway, thanks to low natural gas prices.
CONOVERWe've got a lot of options in our economy today, whether it's nuclear or natural gas or renewables. So the caller is correct that people who care about clean air also ought to be pro nuclear power.
REHMNuclear power. Do you see that as the next big thing, Frances?
BEINECKEWell, I think natural gas is much more likely because it's available, it's abundant, if we can deal with the environmental implications of fracking, which really have to be dealt with. They're a serious problem. But nuclear, there are still many issues around nuclear. Certainly, we haven't figured out how to dispose of nuclear waste. We haven't figured out how to address the security issues, the proliferation issues. So I think it'll be some time before there would be a large uptick in the amount of nuclear energy provided in this country.
REHMFrances Beinecke is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Short break and more of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd here's our first email from Mary, who says, "I think it's a huge leap to think that companies that are going to get off scot-free by not having to comply with the air quality regs are going to create jobs with whatever they save. Obama needs to get serious about job creation, not cozying up to companies and pretend he's doing something for job seekers." What do you think, Frances?
BEINECKEWell, I think that we have to have a real plan to create jobs. I think we're all looking forward to Thursday night's speech to see what that is. There are jobs that are being created in America though. Right now there's 2.7 million jobs have been created in clean energy field, which is quite a few. There are more jobs in clean energy now than there are in the fossil fuel industry according to Brookings. So I think, you know, we have to look for where the opportunities are and really make those investments as aggressively as we can.
REHMAll right. To Detroit, Mich. Good morning, Brian.
BRIANGood morning. My comment is that EPA needs to do a better job of explaining all that it does. I work for EPA. I'm an emergency responder. I've worked on everything from the Amtrak cleanup in D.C. to the shuttle recovery in Texas to the Katrina aftermath to the B.P. Gulf spill to more than 100, 200 spills, fires and smaller hazardous substances and chemical releases in the Midwest. And I don't think anybody in -- not anybody, but most people aren't aware all that EPA does with a small workforce and a budget that probably wouldn't get you through a month in Afghanistan or Iraq.
REHMGo ahead, Jeff.
HOLMSTEADAs someone else who worked at EPA for a long time, I have to agree with that. EPA is a remarkable place with many capable people who do a lot of things. And I think not withstanding some of the political rhetoric, I don't think there's any likelihood that EPA is going to be shut down or abolished. It's not so much about EPA's employees or career officials who really are a very impressive group. It's about trying to design regulations that strike the right balance between protecting our environment and...
REHMBut what is more important in this discussion, jobs or public health, David Conover?
CONOVERWell, you don't need to make that choice. What you need to do is you need to make the environmental statutes and the environmental regulations protective of public health in the most cost efficient way possible. And as Frances said, there are clean energy jobs. There are also manufacturing jobs and traditional conventional energy jobs out there. If you don't have a job, a job is a pretty important thing to you. That's for sure. But the point Jeff made I think is absolutely accurate. Nobody's serious talking about dismantling EPA, dismantling environmental laws, rolling back protections. What we're talking about is making sure that as we move through the 21st century implementing 40 year old laws that we do that in the best way possible.
REHMRobin, do you think there really is a consensus on jobs versus the environment.
BRAVENDERI don't think that is a consensus. EPA continues to say that it can do both, can protect public health while creating jobs. There was a study out from the White House that said over the past decade the cost of -- or the benefits of regulations have dwarfed the cost that they've imposed. So I think that that's definitely debated. EPA is out there making that message as -- I mean, Lisa Jackson and her deputies are out there saying constantly how important public health is and that's what these regulations are designing and that they'll create clean energy jobs. But the rhetoric on Capitol Hill and from industry continues to dwarf that out.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Boone, N.C. Good morning, Matt.
MATTGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having me on.
MATTI'm really concerned about this whole jobs versus environment frame as well that Mr. Holmstead and the Republicans in Congress keep pushing. And I'd like to provide an example of one of the EPA initiatives which is under fire regarding the protection of streams from mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. Unlike some of the power plant rules, we actually have some data 'cause these have -- some of these rules have been in effect for a couple of years now. As it turns out, if you look at the number of mining jobs in West Virginia, they're up by six percent over that time period. And that's because, you know, more of the coal is being produced in underground mines which employ more minors.
MATTAnd so I guess I'm curious why Mr. Holmstead is so sure that the studies he's citing about, you know, that EPA rules are going to kill jobs are so much better than these other studies that show it would create jobs or real data that are showing that actually jobs can be created with stronger protection.
REHMFrances and Jeff, go ahead.
BEINECKEGo ahead, Jeff.
HOLMSTEADWell, I'm happy to start. This is part of the problem with this whole debate. We shouldn't be talking about jobs versus the environment. We ought to be talking about specific policies and specific rules. I don't know really anything about the streamed rules he's talking about. But I do know with many of the other rules, and air pollution is what I've spent my career on, there is no doubt that depending on how regulations are created and implemented they can have substantial impact on jobs. And the same OMB report that Robin mentioned acknowledges this fact.
HOLMSTEADFor example, they show that job growth in areas that are in non-attainment is significantly lower. And in particular, many fewer businesses go there. The OMB study also points out that there is a fair amount of U.S. manufacturing that has gone overseas in part because of overregulation and in particular a lot of these process delays. And, you know, to build the very same facility in Europe can be done in a year, whereas in the United States it may take four or five years because of all of the process.
REHMAnd what you're saying then is Europe's rules are far less stringent than ours?
HOLMSTEADNo, they're different from ours. They're different from ours. You don't have to go through an exceedingly long permitting process, where Frances and her members can bring multiple lawsuits before you can do anything.
HOLMSTEADThey tell you what the law is. And if you meet the law, you can build your plant.
BEINECKEI think that, first of all, jobs versus the environment is a false choice. I think we in the environmental community have been working for years to figure out how to have the most efficient environmental protection and insure that jobs are created. We work closely with the labor community in the Blue Green Alliance, so to see that we could come together. The whole pollution control field is a job creator. When you put new pollution controls on a power plant, somebody has to manufacture those. Somebody has to install those. Somebody has to monitor those. There are a tremendous number of jobs that have been created by our environmental protection system as well as the jobs that are being created in a clean energy economy.
REHMAre you saying it would be job neutral?
BEINECKEWell, I think that jobs are very much on people's minds. The job debate that people might've had 20 years ago is just not relevant now.
REHMSo do you agree to a certain extent with Jeff's argument that the kinds of lawsuits that the EPA creates or that your organization would create to halt or slow down the creation of a manufacturing site does in fact have an impact on job creation?
BEINECKEI don't think it has an impact on job creation. I think what -- there are a whole lot of reasons that the American economy has slowed down and I don't think you could point to the environment as the primary one. I mean, the economy across the world...
REHMBut how about one of them?
BEINECKEIt may be a contributor to some, but the fact is that we have a standard of environmental protection that the American public -- the majority of the American public and a large majority believe strongly in. And the responsibility of the EPA is to come out with regulations and standards that protect health and evaluate what the costs of that are and to figure out how to do as efficiently and effectively as possible. And our job at NRDC is to hold EPA accountable, insure that they do implement and enforce those laws and to make sure that they do meet the letter of the law.
BEINECKEThere are a lot of the regulations that are coming due that are result of weaker standards that were imposed by earlier administrations that the courts are turning over and requiring EPA to come up with new standards. And that's what the Clean Air Act requires. So, yes, we do have a process oriented system. And the purpose of the process is to protect the public and protect the public's health and that's what we're in business for.
REHMAll right. To Kingsport, Tenn. Daniel, you're on the air.
DANIELI guess I had a brief comment and then a question. The EPA, it's kind of a love hate relationship. There's a lot that has been improved upon regarding public health due to the EPA, but outdated laws and regulations and in the name of corporate interests, not public health, I find it ironic that the chemicals -- and this is just one example of the irony that we face here as a consumer.
DANIELMom and Pop, small and large scale farmers, have had numerous pesticides pooling off the market, cannot no longer obtain or use. Yet in the name of corporate interest, these conglomerates raise beef, cattle, what have you, crops and we make the pesticides. We're still allowed to make them. Not allowed to use them, but we're allowed to ship them overseas, where they can use them and then the products brought back to us. Do you see this is a rule, a regulation, just one example of things that drastically need changed?
CONOVERWell, I think the caller makes an interesting point and in a way it echoes what Jeff said earlier that there's little doubt that some of the driver for moving manufacturing overseas have been more favorable climate for corporate interests, whether it's labor law or environmental regulation. I mean, that's clear. On the other hand, as Frances said, it's not EPA's job to worry about creating jobs in the economy. It's EPA's job, as the caller pointed out, to worry about public health. And I think that frankly the environmental movement does itself a disservice by trying to make the case for environmental regulations based on that job growth. There's little or no academic research that shows a net job growth from pollution control.
CONOVERThere is clear research that shows public health gains from environmental protection and that's really what we ought to be having as the conversation in this country. The level of investment that we want to make in protecting public health and what are the tradeoffs that come from that, get away from this idea that we're gonna somehow raise everybody's costs and create jobs at the same time. People just don't believe that.
REHMDavid Conover, he's at the Bipartisan Policy Center, pardon me, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Columbia, S.C. Good morning, Ernie.
ERNIEHey, how are you?
REHMI'm good. Thanks.
ERNIEGood. I'm enjoying your discussion. I'm glad to hear it. I'd love to hear more of this on more radio stations, to tell you the honest truth. I would love to express an appreciation to EPA for what they are doing. It's sad that they do get a bad reputation. As I mentioned to the fellow who's interviewing me a minute ago, indeed EPA is in for a battle. They need to step up to the plate and explain the regulations that are out there and what they have done for this country. What did this country look like before those regulations? Where were we going? When you can dump things anywhere you want, TCBs, any toxin you want in the water, in the air, in the dirt and get away with it, corporate America was doing that.
ERNIEAnd until they were told, no, this is not a healthy thing, they would continue to do it. We are all of a sudden in a funny posture where the populous is being told via media that we're being controlled by a liberal left that wants to take things away from them and the way to do it is by regulation. And by George, they're gonna use these EPA regulations to control us. It's interesting, like I say, EPA's gotta stand up and say, no, these are to protect this country from those pollutants. Anyway, thank you for taking my call. I appreciate it.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Frances.
BEINECKEWell, I think Ernie had it just right. I mean, EPA has done an amazing job for the American public and it has a responsibility that it needs to continue and it needs to have the wear with all to do that, so I think he was right on.
REHMAnd to Tampa, Fla. Good morning, Steve.
STEVEGood morning. Thank you for taking my call, Diane.
STEVEI just -- the last caller actually pretty much had the question I had. What would your panel think that this country's shape would be in environmentally if we did not give the power to the EPA back in the '70s? One of your panelists to me seems like she is a proponent of what private industry, you know, be their own watchdog. Is that something that's on the table by anyone?
CONOVERWell, I don't think any of us have been suggesting that there's no need for regulation. The idea is that these laws have done enormous good and the regulations that implemented those laws have protected public health, cleaned our air, cleaned our land, cleaned our water. Now, however, we are faced with a situation where they are old statutes, particularly with the case of the Clean Air Act, with conflicting regulations, conflicting timetables that increase unnecessarily the cost of achieving those same environmental protections that we all wanna see.
CONOVERI think that the debate as it's occurring is exactly the right thing that we ought to be seeing, that we ought to be seeing Congress stepping up and saying, look, we can amend these statutes in a way that achieves the same environmental protection, but at reduced cost to the American taxpayer. Because that's really at the end of the day what it's all about, protecting the environment at the least possible cost.
HOLMSTEADAnd EPA has done those same studies. I mean, EPA has shown that they could achieve the same level of benefits at a much lower cost to society.
REHMAt the same time, haven't there been those who've called for industry of all sorts to regulate itself and isn't that also coming into this discussion, Frances?
BEINECKEWell, I think there's some talk about voluntary regulation by industry, but I agree with Dave that no one's really taking that seriously. This is a country that stood behind significant environmental regulation for 40 years. We're not gonna back away from that. How it's done is the key issue. And, you know, our top priority is to insure that public health is protected.
REHMWhat would the country look like if the EPA had not been here?
BEINECKEWell, you know, I think it's interesting if you travel abroad, particularly where there's a tremendous amount of manufacturing, for example, China where they do have environmental laws, they're not implemented, they're not enforced and the air and water quality is shocking and it is a huge hazard to the public health of that nation, huge public health legacy.
REHMFrances Beinecke, Jeff Holmstead, Robin Bravender, David Conover, thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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