Good regulations

Published 10:41 am Friday, September 30, 2011

Since 1975, my occupation has placed me in the arena of industry and environmental impact issues.
I have advised federal, state and local agencies, as well as,industry and many attorneys on technical and regulatory issues related to the environment.
I have had the good fortune to successfully run manufacturing concerns, which included international businesses and have had direct experience in understanding the dynamics of how environmental and other regulatory programs impact businesses – domestic and international.
I tell you this to lay the groundwork for the remainder of this article.
There have been a lot of good people that have become “environmentalists” because they wanted to do something worthwhile for future generations.
There have also been a lot of “not so good” people that have “gamed the system” under the guise of “environmentalism.”
I have dealt with both. However, at some point, the “gamers” have overtaken the direction of “environmentalism” and we now have something that no longer considers the science, which affects the costs and benefits of policy and regulation.
Unfortunately, the costs of regulations are understated and the benefits are overstated.
Recently, President Obama chose to delay another “tightening” of the ground level ozone rules.
To quote him: “I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.”
Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said the move suggests the White House “is becoming more sensitive to the uncertainty created by their heavy regulatory hand. They are beginning to understand that the regulatory burden does more to chill job creation than just about anything else out there.”
And then there is Al Gore who stated: “Instead of relying on science, President Obama appears to have bowed to pressure from polluters who did not want to bear the cost of implementing new restrictions on their harmful pollution. The result of the White House’s action will be increased medical bills for seniors with lung disease, more children developing asthma, and the continued degradation of our air quality.”
I applaud the outcome of delaying or shelving a new “ozone” rule but I must say that the reasons given for or against the rule simply don’t make much sense. Just like economic regulations (think Federal Reserve and SEC), environmental regulation is a myriad of rules that is both complex and far-reaching. But one thing should apply to both.
If it’s not practical and/or can’t be used effectively, then it becomes a meaningless rule. Regulation in any form must have an “achievable” beneficial result.
For example, in the 1990s, if we had put into place “safeguard” rules for the “sub-prime” mortgage derivatives products, there is a good chance there wouldn’t have been the devastating financial crisis that we’re now trying to recover from.
It is very unlikely that implementing a lower “ground-level ozone” standard is going to produce any discernable benefits.
We do not a have chance of meeting the current “ozone” standards in the U.S., much less a more stringent standard.
I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “Why can we not meet the current standard?”
Well, the answer is very complex.
Ozone is the result of a complex series of reactions in the atmosphere involving man-made and, yes, natural sources of pollutants in the air.
The standards proposed are about half of the original standard. Unfortunately, almost no metropolitan area that was declared to be in non-attainment with the standards has ever remained in attainment for long even with severe controls and emission reduction targets.
We have just about reached the limit of current technology with regard to industrial and automotive emissions and we have no way of dealing with natural sources.
I’m sure I’ll get some disagreement on this, but we’ve fundamentally reached the limit of practicality with regard to the engineering and technology in reducing levels of “ground-level ozone.”
The result is that the sprint to meet even lower standards would require draconian measures such as eliminating almost all “coal-fired” power plants in the United States. Despite the “dream” of a pollution-free (Green) energy industry, the next couple of generations will not see much of it because it is terribly costly and inefficient compared to our current energy sources.
There is one “broad picture” aspect to all of this that doesn’t seem to get much attention. The quality of our air is impacted by pollutants emitted by thriving industrial economies in Asia where industrial controls are lax or non-existent.
Coal is the favored energy source of those economies. If we eliminate well-controlled “coal-fired” plants in the United States and drive more manufacturing to poor Asian countries, our air quality will not improve but will likely deteriorate for reasons completely out of our control.
This “canary in the coal mine” hasn’t gotten much attention.
Deteriorating air quality is one of those unexpected consequences of moving manufacturing out of this country into “cheap labor” countries.
The proposed tightening of the “ozone” rules would likely make our air quality worse, not better. We need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox