The truth about health, safety and environmental regulations

In a week that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) rallied his Members with a plan to repeal “job-destroying regulations,” the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) provides strong evidence to debunk the House Republican’s rhetoric. In “Saving Lives, Preserving the Environment, Growing the Economy: The Truth about Regulation,” CPR scholars provide concrete examples of profound benefits to society of safety and environmental regulations. It’s a stark contrast to Mr. Cantor’s one-sided view of regulations: they cost money, while completely ignoring their value to the health, safety and security of our country.

The Republican leader takes particular aim at several proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules on ozone, particulate matter, and emissions from industrial boilers and incinerators. He argues they are too costly without saying a word about the thousands of lives saved, healthcare costs avoided, sick days averted, IQ points preserved, etc., etc., annually if these protections were put in place. That’s the exact misleading strategy that the CPR scholars take aim:

“Regulatory opponents resort to this scare tactic becasue they cannot demonstrate that the country is illed serve by government regulation.”

Where Mr. Cantor gives a one-side (estimated cost only) description of alleged “job-killing regulations,” the CPR report offers loads of examples with multiple impacts. They cite, for example:

a study from the Economic Policy Institute that found the major EPA rules issued in the “first two years of the Obama Administration produced total annualized benefits of between $44 billion and $148 billion, as compared to total annualized costs of between $6.7 billion and $12.5 billion,” and

a “look-back” review of OSHA’s grain handling standard that reported a 70 percent reduction in fatalities from explosions, and 44 percent reduction in suffocations, while sales and profits increased, no substantial change in the number of firms, and no subtantial change in employment.

The examples in CPR’s report go on-and-on. The authors correctly note that

“public opinion polling tells us that many Americans are suspicious of government regulation in the abstract, a reaction on which regulatory opponents seek to capitalize.”

But, we also know that when Americans are asked about specific regulations, like USDA rules to ensure meat isn’t contaminated, or EPA rules to prevent contaminated discharge from sewage treatment plants, they think those rules are important to protect their families’ health and safety.

The CPR report also contains an appendix summarizing the key findings of the 38 “look back” reviews prepared on EPA and OSHA regulations, as required by Section 610 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act. I noted in particular the significant number of times the worker safety regulations spurred innovation and increased productivity.

For all the podium thumping about job-killing regulations, the CPR authors remind us of the consequences of failed or inadequate regulations. Based on information supplied by employers to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 2007, about 1.5 million workers per year have lost their jobs due to extended mass layoffs. On average, the employers only attributed 0.3 percent of the job losses to government regulations.

“This pales in comparison to any accounting of the jobs lost in this period due to the regulatory failures that contributed to the economy’s financial crisis.”