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Regulations that save lives or protect workers are useless rocks in a knapsack?

Scott Slesinger

Posted January 3, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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New chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa was on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday show and once again put up the great lie about regulations.  The dirty fuel companies, who have become major funders of the tea partiers, have convinced many Republicans, that environmental and health standards have no benefits but are placed on corporations to increase costs for no reason whatsoever.  Issa compares regulations to rocks in a knapsack:

I think we're going to be in a constant battle over jobs and the economy. My father-in-law was an Air Force pilot, and he used to say when there was a problem that stopped him from doing something, oh, another rock in my knapsack.

But as a pilot, he understood every bit of weight you put on is a fuel you don't have. It's a distance you don't go. You wouldn't want to be bomber pilot over the English Channel and find out you have too many rocks and not enough fuel. We have about $1.7 trillion worth of regulatory costs already in the government. If the president wants to throw another $300 or $400 billion, what he's doing is taking it right out of businesses, right out of employment, right out of competitiveness. We need to make sure we compete. People always talk about China. We need to compete against Brazil and against Europe.  [full transcript here]

The George W. Bush Administration tried to prove the big lie that regulations were wasteful.  What they proved was the opposite – that environmental standards, particularly those required under the Clean Air Act, had health benefits that were significantly greater than their costs. For the ten years from 1997-2007, the Bush White House estimated  that EPA regulations promulgated during those years cost between $32 billion and $35 billion.  But the health benefits, were between $83 billion and $592 billion, a rate of return of 2.5 to 1 to 16 to 1! Full report  at page 5.

Most of these benefits were in reduced health care cost, increased life expectancy, decreases in asthma, reduced lost workdays and safer working conditions. These are not “rocks” in the knapsack.   These “rocks” are the maps, the weather report, and the radio. They are common sense requirements that government must do. 

Companies are in competition with one another.  One will not put on costly pollution controls voluntarily when their competitors are letting the population pay the cost of its pollution controls through shorter lives and higher health care costs caused by their pollution.  Regulatory standards level the playing field.  And these regulatory standards can have substantial economic stimulative impacts, as my colleague David Goldstein has written about for years.

Mr. Issa,  ask your corporate special interests not just about the cost of regulations but also ask about the myriad economic and health benefits we will lose if those standards don’t go into effect.  You may be surprised.  And Chris Wallace and the other Sunday news show hosts, PLEASE follow up the big lie with the facts.

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Comments

David B. GoldsteinJan 5 2011 05:44 PM

Representative Issa’s story about the Air Force pilot has an odd ring to it.
Of all professions, an Air Force pilot ought to understand the value of regulations. When the pilot is flying a 4000 mile mission with 5000 miles of fuel, doesn't he want to count on the purity and energy content of the fuel? And the assumption that the refueler understood the specifications on fuel quantity measurements and fueled his plane to assure 5000 miles of capacity? And that the fuel quality was sufficient to assure the engines won't seize? And that his parachute is packed and stowed correctly and will work if worst comes to worst? Or for that matter that the welds on the plane were done correctly?
Military as well as civilian aviation depends critically on meeting long regulatory checklists before each and every flight. It depends on them because of experience that bad things happen when you leave these issues to personal judgment.
Those rocks in a pilot’s knapsack are the rocks the pilot’s life depends on.
I discuss the issue of how free markets depend on regulations to enable competition in Saving Energy Growing Jobs.
Yes, there are regulations that cost the pilot (or the Air Force) money and effort; money that could be spent on other things. Like a new TV, a new suit. Or his funeral.

Rev. Christine BartonJan 27 2011 09:03 PM

Unfortunately the Republican mindset carries with it a shortsightedness with regard to the "public welfare" which our patriot foreparents were concerned about. And so regulations which protect lives and health and the nation's future are seen merely as "rocks in knapsacks."
Mittt Romney recently slammed our president by calling him "cavalier" when it comes to the jobs issue. I would suggest that Mr. Romney's moneyed cohorts are cavalier when it come to the state of health and health care of our nation's people. Romney's friends are cavalier as well with regard to the future of our children and the sorts of jobs which will be available to the vast numbers who will have suffered mediocre educational systems unless we begin to change them. The Romney's of this world are cavalier when it comes to ignoring the infrastructure and energy gridlock which becomes frighteningly more real with each passing year.
I am soon to be 70 years old and I am tired of the public purse being held up by the highway robbery of politicians who get theirs when we the taxpayers are increasingly forced to do with the mediocre and the minimal.
Those of us who demand that all of our citizens be cared for and educated are called "socialists" or communists by those who violate the values they tout and parade under the banner of Christianity.
As a an ordained Christian minister I am ashamed of so many of our public figures who hide behind the cross and scripture using them as clubs when it serves their purpose.
Yet when those who are indeed in need seek protection and care their issues are merely deemed nothing more than "useless rocks in knapsacks."
We need regulations to protect our people from the reckless and thoughtless among us who will use whatever means to plunder the richness of our human resources in order to line private pockets.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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