Jess Chapman

Smog gets in your eyes

In Environment on September 26, 2011 at 8:00 am

Few things are more annoying for a pundit than when a headline fails to reflect the body of a story accurately. (A lack of stories to comment on, plus running out of granola bars, are notable exceptions.) When I first set out to write about the vote on the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act, having only read a snippet, I mistakenly believed the Republicans were declaring war on clean air rules in principle for the economy’s sake. Well, that’s not . . . completely true.

The real story is that the TRAIN Act would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide a full projection of how its regulations might affect “jobs, electricity, gasoline prices and competitiveness.” While the EPA has some cost-benefit analysis measures in place already, these would go substantially further. This, they say, would “allow further analyses and buy time for the economy to recover.”

On this main thrust of the bill, I have to declare the Republicans completely sane. Though I cannot recall them actually identifying an EPA regulation that can be described as a job-killer, there is nothing at all wrong with a full regulatory review in all government agencies. President Obama himself has called for one on numerous occasions. If duplications and simple unnecessities exist, by all means scrap them.

However, if we’re going by the Republicans’ talking points and nothing else, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) is justified in his concern that they’re not considering the part of a cost-benefit analysis in which there are benefits. Let’s frame this argument in a fashion that they can get behind: Bad air means lower property values means people moving elsewhere means towns (and their local businesses) suffering economically means other people (taxpayers) picking up the slack. Bad air also means higher health costs means other people (taxpayers) picking up the slack. See how that can work?

That said, I will throw my support behind the bill if the Republicans agree that truly full projections – one that estimates savings incurred through EPA regulations – are in order. No jobs are worth creating if Americans’ health must remain at risk to keep them. It would be nice if the GOP could at least acknowledge something to this effect in public so they don’t come off as completely ignorant of how frickin’ awesome clean air is.

The consistent anti-regulation message is a good political sell if all you care about is keeping your base happy. If you’re hoping to craft the legislation that best suits the American public and market it effectively, well, you’ll have to try harder than this.

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