NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The EPA's New Air Quality Regulations: All Pain, No Gain (Part One)

August 11, 2011

Over the past two years the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed or finalized a number of air quality regulations that could seriously retard the economic recovery.  Economists estimate that two of the new rules -- the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards -- will cost millions of jobs and raise energy prices with little or no public health benefit, say H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow, and Kenney Meier, an intern, with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule goes into effect on January 1, 2012, and will require 27 states to significantly reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 2014.
  • The rule could cost up to $120 billion by 2015 and reduce the nation's power supply by more than 55 gigawatts (almost 4 percent), according to the Brattle Group.
  • By 2015, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards requires existing coal- and oil-fired power plants to reduce emissions to the average level of emissions of the least polluting 12 percent of plants currently operating.
  • The standard could cost an estimated $100 billion by 2017, according to researchers at Credit Suisse.
  • Higher fuel prices and plant closures due to the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards could result in a net loss of 1.4 million jobs by 2020.
  • The average household electricity bill could increase by 11.5 percent; some businesses could see as much as a 35 percent increase in electricity prices.

These regulations are arguably unnecessary since the air is so clean that there is little benefit to additional pollution reduction.  According to EPA data:

  •  Between 1980 and 2008, emissions of nitrogen dioxide emissions fell 40 percent.
  • Emissions of sulfur dioxide fell by 56 percent.
  • Lead emissions fell 96 percent.
  • These decreases came despite a 22 percent increase in population and a 19 percent increase in energy consumption since 1990.

The economy is still struggling and many people remain unemployed.  The loss of more than 1 million jobs and soaring energy costs over the next decade will stifle economic recovery.  Current clean air standards and technological improvements are already improving air quality, say Burnett and Meier.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett and Kennedy Meier, "The EPA's New Air Quality Regulations:  All Pain, No Gain (Part One)," National Center for Policy Analysis, August 11, 2011.

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