Air quality regulations could save US economy billions

Living on Earth

Story by Living on Earth. Listen to audio above for full interview.

Environmentalists were shocked and disappointed when President Obama recently delayed implementation of rules that would have regulated ozone emissions from cars, factories, and power plants. Now environmentalists are eager to learn what the President will do with another EPA clean air proposal that would reduce emissions of mercury and other heavy metals from power plants.

The EPA has estimated that as early as 2016, the United States would have 17,000 fewer deaths, 4,500 fewer cases of bronchitis, around 120,000 fewer cases of asthma, and something like 850,000 fewer days of missed work, mostly due to respiratory problems.

These regulations have been a long time coming, according to Lynn Goldman, Dean of George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. In the meantime, “we’ve continued to see from these power plants emissions of very harmful substances – mercury, even arsenic and lead,” Goldman told Living on Earth. “And so, what this rule will do, once it’s finalized, is that it will require these power plants to install technologies that reduce the pollution from these toxic substances.”

Republican politicians have labled air-quality regulations as “job killing,” and some top leadership have targeted the regulations for repeal. And President Obama is under serious pressure to bend on these regulations, too.

In this case, however, Goldman says, “I don’t think that there is a lot of choice.” These regulations came about after “the EPA was actually taken to court by the American Nurses Association to ask that the EPA be required to make this standard, and this regulation must be done under consent decree,” Goldman relates. “And so, I don’t think that there are very many options, other than moving forward as they’ve committed to do.”

Environmentalists can also make a strong economic argument in favor of the regulations. According to Goldman, air quality regulations could save the US economy billions in medical costs alone. 

“Can we actually afford the additional deaths, the additional cases of bronchitis and asthma?” Goldman asks. “The fact that the medical care costs that are associated with this kind of pollution are enormous, and are a burden to our society? Can we afford all those days of missed work- what is the impact on families from those days of missed work? So, the whole picture needs to be considered when talking about the effects on the economy.”

Read the full transcript on the Living on Earth website.


Hosted by Steve Curwood, “Living on Earth” is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit.

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