The Amazing Benefits of EPA’s New Air Pollution Proposal

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its plan to regulate air pollution that crosses state lines. The so-called clean air transport rule targets downwind emissions, mainly smog and soot, from power plants in 31 states (mostly in the east) and D.C.

The rule is still in the proposed stage; EPA does not plan to finalize it until the summer of 2011. If finalized, the rule would require a significant reduction in air pollution and, as a result, lead to significant public health gains. (See more on the details of the rule here.)

When industry lobbyists and conservatives talk about regulation, the discussion is usually centered around the economic impact of regulation, that is, the costs of compliance and the impact on the free market. As a result, cost discussions shape Congressional debates, permeate media accounts, and even color the way regulators view their work. (In my opinion, industry and conservatives are better at promoting their message than liberals and public interest types are at promoting theirs – that regulation can help people in real ways.)

Too often, the benefits of regulation are ignored. That’s because, in part, regulations’ benefits are often realized farther into the future than their costs. It’s also because, in some cases, benefits are invisible – they are the absence of a risk or the avoidance of a damaging event. If sufficient regulations had been in place to prevent the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill, how would we have ever witnessed the benefits?

EPA estimated the benefits of its clean air transport rule, and while the monetary estimate is impressive in its own right, the health and welfare statistics are truly amazing:

Today’s action would yield more than $120 billion in annual health benefits in 2014, including avoiding an estimated 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths, 23,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 240,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.9 million days when people miss school or work due to ozone- and particle pollution-related symptoms. [Emphasis added.] 

That’s just for one year, people. (EPA estimates the rule’s costs at $2.8 billion for 2014.)

Protections like these, whether for air pollution, consumer products, or workplace hazards, are critical to Americans’ well-being and often, their very lives. It’s an idea that needs to be discussed more often.

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