Virtual Voices

Fatal regulation

Environment

Why should Americans be glad that the Obama administration has delayed new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on ozone and greenhouse gas emissions, and that the House of Representatives has voted to delay more EPA regulations?

Because the decisions will save lives.

We all want to keep risks to a minimum, but sometimes reducing one risk can increase another.

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Since income is a good predictor of life expectancy, one way to compare the costs and benefits of government regulation is to estimate its cost in dollars and compare it with how much added life expectancy correlates with that amount of income. A widely respected study estimates that for every $15 million in regulatory compliance costs there is one excess statistical death in the U.S. population.

Such considerations explain why many people, like me, are concerned about the raft of new regulations being proposed by the EPA, all of which will impose compliance costs and reduce income per capita. And that, in turn, results in reduced health and life expectancy for the American people.

For example, one proposed new rule would force reductions of mercury emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants by about 83 percent-from about 29 tons per year to about 5 tons annually. Credible estimates of the cost to achieve that goal range from the EPA's low of about $10 billion to a high of $100 billion-or, at one death per $15 million in regulatory costs, anywhere from 675 to approximately 6,667 excess deaths. Yet the EPA says that even larger reductions would be "unlikely to substantially affect total risk."

But that's just one rule. There are others, forcing reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, coal ash, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, ozone, and airborne particulates-and those are just the ones targeting the electric utility industry. Their costs will add up to hundreds of billions of dollars annually, with each $100 billion causing an additional 6,667 deaths (more than twice those killed on 9/11).

The EPA has other parts of our economy in its crosshairs, too: new rules on boilers that affect hospitals, colleges, and all other entities that use industrial boilers, not to mention new regulations on cement production and agriculture.

One example of rules affecting agriculture is a new "guidance document" that instructs EPA employees on how to interpret the Clean Water Act (CWA)-in ways contrary to two Supreme Court rulings and congressional intent, but flying under the radar by avoiding the EPA's formal rule-making process. This interpretation will force farmers to get CWA permits before using pesticides, though the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) already governs pesticide use.

As Missouri farmer Blake Hurst points out, the EPA estimates that the new rule will require filing 5.6 million permits each year, at an administrative cost to the EPA of about $50 million (3.3 deaths)-and that doesn't even include the roughly 1 million hours of farmers' time each year required to file the permits. Calculated at $25 per hour, that's another 1.7 deaths. A death here, a death there-and the number of deceased Americans begins to add up.

For energy generation, as well as agriculture, more regulations mean higher costs. Those costs will always be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices-not just for food and energy but also for everything else, since workers require food, and machines require energy. And the people hardest hit will be the poor, the elderly, and others with low or fixed incomes.

All the rest of these new regulations should be delayed or killed, too. The result would be savings, not just of dollars but, more importantly, lives.

E Calvin Beisner, the founder and national spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, is a theologian and ethicist and author of several books on economic and environmental ethics.

E. Calvin Beisner
E. Calvin Beisner

Cal is founder of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

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