Due mainly to the tough economic conditions, there has been a fair amount of frustration expressed by some politicians about environmental regulations. They say protecting the environment is only bad for the economy. They are incorrect though, and are oversimplifying the economic situation, to scapegoat environmental protection. In fact, a proposed EPA air pollution regulation was studied and found likely to create billions in revenues and over 100,000 jobs.
It was also predicted that if the toxics utility proposal is made into law, the pollution reductions could prevent 6,000-17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, 120,000 asthma attacks, and 850,000 missed work days. So it wouldn’t only generate revenues and jobs, it would prevent death and suffering. One of the main reason for creating environmental regulations decades ago was to stop out of control industries from polluting our air, water and soil so much it was making people sick and even killing some of them. The EPA’s first administrator said this of the problem then. Until 1970, most regulation of industry was done by the states, which competed so strongly for plants and jobs that regulating companies to protect public health was difficult. (Source: The Guardian)
So it seems it was about protecting people from some companies that did not care about how much they polluted, nor about the negative impact on human health their pollution was causing. One of the more striking moments in American history took place in 1969 when oil on the Cuyahoga River caught fire spontaneously. The river was very polluted and it was assumed sparks from a passing train started the blaze. It had actually caught fire nine times prior to the 1969 incident. The last fire on the Cuyahoga took place in 1952 and caused 1.5 million dollars worth of damage. A Time magazine article from the period stated, “The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes. It is also — literally — a fire hazard.” (Source: Ohio History) It became a fire hazard due to excessive pollution from industry.
In 1948 20 Americans died, and 7,000 were sickened in a smog inversion that lasted about five days. Also nearly 800 animals died. Many air pollutants released by a zinc plant and steel and wire manufacturer mixed with fog, so local people were breathing contaminated air for an extended period. If the inversion had lasted longer, it was speculated hundreds, if not thousands of people could have been killed. These are just two of many public health disasters created by uncontrolled industry. The point of regulating such industrial activity is to protect workers and the public from being poisoned.
Republicans Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan created two environmental agencies that have helped reduce the public’s exposure to harmful pollutants. Nixon was involved in the creation of the U.S. EPA, and Reagan helped form the California Air Resources Board. Today some Republicans want to abolish the EPA, not understanding how much it has helped the health of the American people. It isn’t just Republicans who suffer from the misunderstanding that environmental regulations kill jobs. Even the President retreated recently on implementing new smog standards, that would reduce health problems.
If you need another example of how unregulated industrial growth has hurt the health of people, and their environment, look no further than China. It is one of the fastest growing countries in economic terms, but it also has terrible pollution problems. A report from the World Health Organization said air pollution alone kills well over 600,000 people each year in China. There may be 400 ‘cancer villages’ or cancer clusters located near polluting factories.
Image Credit: Ohio History