March 06, 2014
regulator’s work is never done.
We need to do
something about that.
counterintuitive, but there’s a point at which America’s air does not need to get
cleaner. In the last several decades, progress on pollution has been
near-miraculous. Polls reveal that ignorance of the improvement is widespread,
but the data are indisputable. As enumerated in the Pacific Research Institute’s Almanac of Environmental Trends,
between 1980 and 2008, declines in ambient levels of the major pollutants were
sulfur dioxide: -71 percent
volatile organic compounds: -25 percent
As natural gas becomes
the dominant fuel for electricity generation, telecommuting expands, drivers
purchase hybrids and diesel-powered vehicles, the population ages, and the
birthrate stays low, the trend toward bluer skies is guaranteed to
continue. But try telling the EPA the good news. Neither it the nor the
“environmental” lobby is interested.
Case in point:
“Tier 3,” 1,069 pages of
regulations the agency finalized earlier this month. The rules force refineries
to lower the sulfur content in gasoline, and mandate the reduction of “both
tailpipe and evaporative emissions from passenger cars, light-duty trucks,
medium-duty passenger vehicles, and some heavy-duty vehicles.”
The EPA claims
that Tier 3 is “among the most highly cost-effective air quality control
measures available” -- that it will raise the price of gasoline by “less than a
penny per gallon,” while yielding, by 2030, “annual monetized health benefits
of … between $6.7 and $19 billion.” That’s boilerplate, garbage-in-garbage-out
“analysis.” No one can accurately estimate what savings, if any, heart- and
lung-condition sufferers will experience. As Joel M. Schwartz and Steven F.
Hayward documented in their 2007 exposé Air
Quality in America, observational
epidemiology is compromised by publication bias and data mining. In
other words, the “science” behind the linkages between air pollution and
illnesses is weak.
Skeptical? Asthma, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention reports, is on the rise, striking “one in 12
people … in 2009, compared with 1 in 14 … in 2001.” Yet the affliction’s
greater incidence has occurred during an era of dramatic air-quality
betterment. There’s much more to be learned, evidently, about the cause(s) of
Tier 3’s value
is negligible -- perhaps nonexistent -- but its burden is real. At an EPA
hearing held in Philadelphia
last April, a representative of the American
Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers testified that the directive will
impose “$10 billion in capital costs, and $2.4 billion per year in operating
costs” on his industry and boost its production expenditures “by six to nine
cents per gallon.” Removing more of gasoline’s piddling sulfur content, the
trade association averred, “will cost refiners almost as much as the Tier 2 reduction
10 years ago, which removed 15 times more … than the proposed Tier 3 regulation
the agency’s demands, Schwartz and Hayward
predict “no end in sight” to its regulatory ratcheting: “Because EPA sets
national air pollution standards, [it] in effect gets to decide when its own
job is finished. This conflict of interest goes a long way toward explaining
the ubiquitous exaggeration of air pollution levels and risks by regulators and
extremism is federal policy, but it’s an ideology and a line of work, too. At
the April hearing, Tier 3’s supporters outnumbered opponents 78 to 2. Present was the predictable mob
of fact-challenged cranks -- obnoxious cyclists, advocates for “environmental
justice,” Gaia-worshipping religious leftists, government-transit fanatics,
sprawl paranoiacs. Big Green’s deep pockets were on hand, with heavyweights
from the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources
Defense Council offering testimony. The American Lung Association dutifully
provided scary stats. And rent-seekers didn’t miss the opportunity: the Manufacturers
of Emission Controls Association (its industry “supports approximately 65,000 U.S.
jobs”) called Tier 3 “both technically feasible and cost effective.”
motorists? None showed up.
remains a nuisance in a handful of locales, notably Southern California, Texas’s booming cities,
and the southern portion of the Northeast megalopolis.
There’s probably a role for region-specific, low-hanging-fruit emission
crackdowns in places where progress has been insufficient.
But there is
no longer any need for the EPA’s one-size-fits-all rule-tightening. It’s outlived whatever
usefulness it may have once had. Clean air is one of America’s few success stories in
the postwar period. It doesn’t require the maintenance of an expensive,
complex, and boundless regulatory regime.
In the war on
air pollution, it’s time to declare victory, and breathe deeply.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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