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Derrick Z. Jackson

New EPA rules will create jobs

By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / February 12, 2011

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THE REPUBLICAN attack on the Environmental Protection Agency began in earnest Wednesday with Representative Joe Barton of Texas saying that regulations to curb pollutants and limit greenhouse gases will “put the American economy in a straitjacket, costing us millions of jobs.’’

Lisa Jackson, the EPA administrator, was ready to combat the job-killing rhetoric. In her opening statement to a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee, she quoted a UMass Amherst study that found that the construction and retrofitting investments in the eastern US under two new EPA air quality rules would produce nearly 1.5 million jobs over the next five years. The rules limit the emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, lead, dioxin, arsenic, and other pollutants. She said the EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act, even in the last year of a Republican Bush administration loath to admit to the dangers of global warming, “contributed to dynamic growth in the US environmental technologies industry and its workforce.’’

James Heintz, associate director at the UMass’s Political Economy Research Institute, which did the study, said in a telephone interview that the potential job growth was not only dynamic, but diverse. “You are talking about an intense infusion of new capital for construction and installation and direct jobs for [people making] boilers, pollution control technologies, scrubbers, and component parts,’’ he said. “The indirect jobs are the kind created that when you install a natural gas-fired generator’’ which includes components made at factories across the country.

The study was based on forecasts by the Boston-based Charles River Associates of pollution control installations, coal plant retirements, and construction for new power generation. The study estimated that about 640,000 direct jobs and 820,000 indirect jobs would be created. Furthermore, as an even more direct counter to the rhetoric of Republicans and some Democrats from coal states, the study estimated that once the temporary construction and retrofitting was done, the new permanent jobs for operating and maintaining the facilities would be a net gain over anticipated job losses from coal plant closures.

The states that would each see at least 50,000 jobs under the EPA air quality rules are Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Many of those states are in top fossil fuel regions and were among the hardest hit states in the recession. Massachusetts is a much smaller player, but would still see 9,500 jobs.

None of this includes the obvious other positive impacts. “Air regulations will also provide substantial economic benefits from cleaner air, improved public health, and increased competitiveness through innovative technologies,’’ the study said.

The question is whether Jackson and the Obama administration can maintain their laudable efforts of bolstering the EPA and withstand attacks to the point where the facts finally get in the way of the Republicans’ Chicken Little storyline.

Meanwhile, Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, this week published online a host of big business complaints about federal regulations.

One letter was from the US Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s top lobbyist and the group President Obama sought to mollify in a speech this week. Citing the new air pollution rules as an example, the letter said EPA rules “ensnare multiple industry sectors and have economy-wide costs usually measuring in billions or even trillions of dollars . . . the cumulative impact can be overwhelming. The result: industries are effectively regulated out of business.’’

Studies such as the one from UMass state the opposite. Heintz said his job estimates were based on “a strong stance and aggressive enforcement’’ by the EPA and “serious compliance’’ by industry. A strong stance means Obama and Jackson cannot back down on regulations during this Republican fury. We would be regulating ourselves not just to a healthier environment but a brighter economic future.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.