Air Standards Prove Their Worth

A House panel held a hearing yesterday examining EPA rules on greenhouse gas emissions and grilling air chief Gina McCarthy, criticizing her for not doing enough to count economic costs when writing new rules (even though the Clean Air Act constrains EPA in that department).

This is not a repeat. This is yet another hearing in which House Republicans vilified the EPA for using the Clean Air Act to set limits on carbon pollution and accused the new rules of hurting the economy. Lawmakers have hurled similar criticism at other EPA air pollutions standards for ozone, mercury, and other pollutants.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the EPA released a report yesterday on the impacts of the Clean Air Act on health, welfare, and the economy. According to the EPA, the Clean Air Act saves tens of thousands of lives, prevents heart attacks and emergency room visits, and prevents millions of asthma attacks.

The health benefits are astounding enough, but the economic figures are worth pondering as well. (I’m looking at you, House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Power.) From the EPA (emphasis in original):

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments programs are projected to result in a net improvement in U.S. economic growth and the economic welfare of American households.

Our central benefits estimate exceeds costs by a factor of more than 30 to one, and the high benefits estimate exceeds costs by 90 times. Even the low benefits estimate exceeds costs by about three to one.

This net improvement in economic welfare is projected to occur because cleaner air leads to better health and productivity for American workers as well as savings on medical expenses for air pollution-related health problems. The beneficial economic effects of these two improvements alone are projected to more than offset the expenditures for pollution control. 

Image by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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