NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 11, 2004

Federal pollution control regulations focus more on administrative processes than reducing pollution, according to Joel Schwartz of the American Enterprise Institute. Moreover, a National Research Council (NRC) report on air quality management fails to address underlying problems with pollution regulations, which are often vague.

The EPA requires each state to provide a state implementation plan (SIP) detailing emission inventories, pollution control measures and an analysis demonstrating proof of meeting federal standards. However, SIPs are often faulty, says Schwartz:

  • States receive credit up front for providing a SIP, so there is little incentive for them to evaluate whether specific measures are actually reducing air pollution.
  • Emission inventories report that gasoline vehicles account for 40 percent of volatile organic compounds, but real evidence suggests the percentage is closer to 50 to 75 percent; as a result, state pollution funds are misdirected.
  • The EPA awards states for less effective vehicle emissions inspections, while discounting more effective and cheaper technologies, such as remote sensing to target polluting vehicles.

Furthermore, command-and-control rules limit competition and keep bureaucrats in power, says Schwartz:

  • The New Source Review requires businesses to install pollution controls when building a new plant or modifying an old one -- as a result, the costs of new plants increase substantially, encouraging businesses to maintain old ones beyond their life expectancies.
  • The Clean Air Act required that electric utilities install scrubbers; the result was protection of the high-sulfur eastern coal industry from the competition of low-sulfur western coal.
  • Market-based programs, such as tradable pollution credits, are generally opposed by regulators and professional environmental activists for fear that such solutions would eliminate the need for their jobs.

Ultimately, we should return air pollution regulation to the states and base remedies for air pollution on real damages, not abstract ideals, says Schwartz.

Source: Joel Schwartz, "Finding Better Ways to Achieve Cleaner Air," American Enterprise Institute, September-October 2004; and Committee on Air Quality Management in the United States, National Research Council, "Air Quality Management in the United States," National Academy of Sciences, 2004.

For AEI text


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