As the 112th Congress begins its session today, there will be a renewed focus on domestic priorities, many of which will have the tag “protecting American jobs” or “strengthening the U.S. economy.” One specific area of concern for many lawmakers — Republican and Democrat alike — is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may have the audacity to create regulations that will address climate change.
To be clear, these regulations are modest and will target only the largest polluters and result in greenhouse gas emission reductions of about 5 percent (according to EPA estimates), which is not close to the 17 percent reduction that was proposed in last year’s failed climate change legislation.
While researching this blog, I discovered that the EPA’s mission is “to protect human health and the environment.” Sounds like a pretty good mission to me. Of course it’s always going to be cheaper to avoid restrictive environmental regulations, but isn’t access to clean air, fresh water and other necessities worth the extra investment if it means keeping more Americans healthy?
I can understand the difficulty many members of Congress feel — they are being pressured by heavy polluting industries to keep the status quo, because these industries are big parts of the economy and do employ many Americans. However, that’s no excuse for getting stuck in the past. Forty years ago, lead was prevalent in the paints used in American homes and the gasoline in our cars, yet its use has been phased out across the U.S. — and much of the world — because of serious health risks. Extensive research by climate scientists has found that unchecked climate change also poses a major threat to public health — so why should our reaction be any different?
It’s certainly possible that addressing climate change will cause certain industries to suffer, but it will also create new opportunities in emerging American industries such as solar and wind energy. This is how progress works.
If Congress is worried about the proper balance of addressing climate change and protecting American jobs, I would suggest it pass legislation to do so, instead of keeping the EPA from taking critical steps to protect our health and environment.
Manuel Oliva is the director of U.S. climate policy in CI’s Center for Conservation and Government.