Foster: Good Jobs, Clean Environment Not Mutually Exclusive

Posted November 9, 2011 at 6:02pm

There are those who suggest America must cut back or delay important environmental protections because we find ourselves in tough economic circumstances. There are two things to remember when one hears this suggestion.

First, many of the same people advocating less regulation to protect our air, land and water were doing so long before the Great Recession and will do so long into the future.

They are simply using the economic troubles of our country to move America backward to a time when polluters were free to pollute with no repercussions. They cite costs to industry with no discussion of the effect that pollution has on public health costs, our environment or the well-being of our children and families. The focus on job losses in some industries — many of which have nothing to do with the actions of the Environmental Protection Agency and everything to do with old, inefficient technology that companies are retiring — is often just scapegoating the EPA for inevitable job losses.

Second, the story peddled — that we cannot have good jobs and a clean environment — is simply false. The truth is that we can and must move our country to a clean energy economy that will ensure we can compete against China, Germany, India and the rest of the world. This is an economy that values efficiency — in manufacturing, energy production and energy use — and is the economy that has the potential to create millions of good American jobs.

Let’s be clear: Regulations that protect our air, soil and water are a net benefit to people — both economically and in terms of their health. Cost-benefit estimates of major federal regulations from 2000 to 2010 show benefits exceeding the costs by at least $70 billion. The benefits of EPA rules were the greatest, estimated at $81.8 billion to more than $550 billion. In the first half of 2011, employers listed regulations as the cause of 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent of jobs lost as part of mass layoffs — not exactly an example of a “job-killing” agenda.

In addition, regulations empower agencies, such as the EPA and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, to take action against bad actors. Since OSHA was created in 1970, workplace fatalities have been reduced more than 65 percent and occupational injuries and illness rates have dropped 67 percent, all while U.S. employment has doubled.

We know a clean economy focused on the industries of the 21st century — renewable energy, energy efficiency, manufacturing, transportation, broadband, smart grid, recycling and green chemistry — will create good jobs.

The first significant down payment on those industries saved or created nearly
1 million jobs. We see it working with fuel efficiency standards — proposed by the Obama administration and supported by unions and industry — where more fuel-efficient cars in the U.S. market could provide a net gain of more than 190,000 new jobs by 2020.

Three out of four Americans support stricter EPA standards for air pollution, and nearly 70 percent oppose Congressional action to weaken or impede the EPA from updating clean air standards in general. Smart, well-crafted environmental protections are an important tool to creating good jobs in the United States, while ensuring that public health, the environment and our economy are safeguarded.

While we are debating moving backward, other countries are moving full-speed ahead. It’s time we take a step forward to winning and keeping good jobs that will help to improve our health, our communities and our environment.

We can have good jobs and a clean environment, and to compete against the world, we must.

David Foster is executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations.