Durbin: Republican "Jobs" Bill Guts Regulations, But Comes Up Empty on Job Creation
Says Attacks on Clean Air and Water Regulations Endanger Public Health
[CHICAGO, IL] – Legislation proposed by Congressional Republicans to delay, roll-back, or eliminate basic pollution standards will weaken our ability to ensure clean air and water, and a healthy environment for our families across the nation, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said today during a news conference at the UIC Medical Center.
By gutting the Clean Air Act and severely limiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate toxic pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants, refineries, and cement manufacturers, Republicans are disregarding a major public health problem which is triggered or worsened by those pollutants: asthma. Nearly two-thirds of asthma sufferers live in an area where at least one federal air-quality standard is not being met. In Illinois, the estimated direct costs of asthma-related hospitalizations in 2007 were more than $280 million. And, in Chicago, the asthma hospitalization rate is nearly double the national average.
The effort to gut environmental protections has gained traction over the course of the year and was reinforced through the recently-introduced bi-cameral Republican jobs bill, the Jobs Through Growth Act. Much of the bill is based on the premise that regulatory uncertainty is preventing businesses from creating jobs, yet even Bruce Bartlett, an advisor to Presidents Reagan and the first George Bush, agrees there is no hard evidence to support those claims.
According to a draft report by the Office of Management and Budget on the impact of significant government-wide regulations, the total benefit of protections greatly outweighs the cost – an estimated $136 -$651 billion in benefits compared to $44-$66 billion in new costs. In addition, a significant portion of the benefits of EPA regulations – such as a reduction in asthma cases – is hard to quantify.
According to the Treasury Department, earnings per share in industries most affected by recent regulatory changes – such as energy and health care – have among the highest earnings per share of those in the S&P 500. And the nation's first-ever standards for mercury and other air toxic pollutants which the EPA will finalize this fall — and which the Republican leadership aims to block — are estimated to create 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term jobs in the utility sector through modernizing power plants. The savings in health benefits are estimated to be up to $140 billion per year by 2016.
“Blaming EPA protections that keep our air clean, ignores the reality that, at 8.5 percent lower than expected, lack of demand is the problem behind our economic struggles. Not one of the regulation reform bills will drive demand, which is the only thing that will really help get our economy going,” Durbin said.
Just yesterday, Durbin visited Prairie State Energy Campus, a 1,200 acre campus in downstate Washington County which has been working closely with the EPA over the last several years to ensure that their new coal-fueled generation plant meets all required emissions standards. “Prairie State Energy Campus is a clean coal success story that proves job creation doesn’t have to come at the expense of clean air and higher environmental standards,” said Durbin. “The campus supported more than 4,000 union jobs during construction and expects to create 500 permanent local jobs and $785 million in Illinois economic activity annually. And it was able to do so while working hand in hand with the EPA to dramatically reduce emission and ensure that our state is home to the cleanest coal plant in the nation.”
The Republican jobs bill takes the opposite approach, featuring a provision that calls for a moratorium on all new federal regulations, including those that would help regulate hazardous air and water pollutants, until an arbitrary unemployment rate is reached.
The House has already passed legislation that would delay or roll back important EPA regulations. In September, the House passed the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts of the Nation Act (TRAIN Act) which would amend the Clean Air Act to prevent the EPA from regulating harmful air pollution including mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. The TRAIN Act would also delay implementation of two EPA rules—the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Utility MACT.
The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule would dramatically reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, both of which contribute to ozone and smog pollution. The Cross-State Rule would save $280 billion in healthcare costs annually. In Illinois, the Cross-State Rule would save up to 1,506 lives and prevent 770 heart attacks and 439 emergency room visits every year. In addition, Illinois-based power companies such as Dynergy and Prairie State Energy Group have reported that their coal plants are already equipped with the necessary pollution controls and are able to run at full capacity under the rule.
The Utility MACT is the first national standard for toxic air emissions from power plants, which would reduce their emissions of metals – such as mercury and arsenic – and acid gases – such as hydrochloric acid and cyanide. These standards could prevent between 6,800 and 17,000 premature deaths and 120,000 cases of aggravated asthma each year.
Earlier this month, the House passed legislation to delay implementation of the Boiler MACT rule – which would reduce the emissions of hazardous air pollutants such as mercury and acid gases emitted by large industrial boilers and solid-waste incinerators – and the Cement MACT rule – which would limit the amount of hazardous pollutants that are emitted from cement kilns. In addition to the public health benefits, implementation of the Boiler MACT rule would also create more than 2,000 jobs related to installing new pollution controls.
“When I hear the Republican argument about cutting the so-called red tape to create jobs, I ask myself: do we have to eliminate the standards in this country for clean air and clean water in order to have a thriving economy? No. If we allowed Republican-supported legislation waiving clean air and clean water standards and eliminating protections against toxic pollutants to be made law, would this be a better nation? Absolutely not. It’s wrong to argue that the only way to build the American economy is to destroy public health standards. Instead, we need to find a balanced approach that takes into account the reality of small businesses and industries that are important to our economy, but protects the health and well-being of American families,” Durbin said.
“With the only jobs package they have offered, Republicans have presented the nation with a false choice: roll back protections for the air we breathe and the water we drink or watch the economy suffer. Our real choices are far simpler: We can set standards that prevent mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide from being released into the air we breathe. Or we can spend more money treating chronic health conditions and trying to prevent premature deaths. Republicans can join us in passing critical elements of the American Jobs Act that would help create jobs and spur economic development by supporting small businesses, investing in education and infrastructure, creating pathways for the unemployed to get back to work, and offering tax relief for middle class families. Or they can continue to vote down every job-creating proposal we propose, even if they favored the same idea a few years ago,” Durbin said.
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