In the world of dirty energy, things often go awry. In just the last few weeks, there s been ongoing news of the nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, yet another in a never-ending series of oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, and natural gas-related fires in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
And what do many policymakers choose to do about such problems? Attack the very regulatory systems designed to protect people and the environment, for example through anti-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bills and calls for less federal meddling in the gas industry.
The promoters of such proposals seem intent on practicing the same short-term, buy-now-let-others-pay-later perspective that has made the nation so dependent on polluting energy sources in the first place. (Or maybe it s hard for some to see beyond the next election cycle, thanks to the power of dirty energy money and, as in Pennsylvania, Marcellus Shale money.)
It s also a great time to hide an anti-regulatory agenda behind the smokescreen of budget deficits and the need for job creation which quickly dissipates in the light of some key facts and figures.
Take the periodic U.S. Office of Management and Budget report on the benefits and costs of federal regulations, which in 2010 concluded that strong environmental regulations yield 3-18 times the benefits ($82-533 billion, in the form of such things as improved health and safety) than they cost ($26-$29 billion). A recent study by the sustainability investment organization CERES and the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts spells out how new air pollution control rules could quickly start generating high-skilled jobs nationwide.
Regulation is also a critical way to ensure that the fossil fuel industry takes the precautions necessary to reduce the harm it so often inflicts. As former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has stated without mincing words: Those who argue that regulations kill jobs ignore an important fact: Lack of adequate regulation kills people.