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Senator Jeff “Energy Smart” Merkley speaks out on economic value of environmental regulation

February 23rd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Sadly, one of the refrains that we hear (ad nauseum) is that regulation is somehow harmful for the economy, that government action (on any front) would strangle business activity.  In the public debate, the accurate and truthful case is not made frequently enough about how government regulation actually strengthens our economy and boosts our economic performance.

In his opening statement to today’s hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget, Senator Jeff “Energy Smart” Merkley (D-OR) took a moment to make a statement about the value of regulation to reduce pollution.

As I’m listening to this conversation, I’m reflecting back on how every single time in this nation, when we have confronted great damage to our air or to our water, it is always the same mantra: ‘it will kill jobs’. And every single time when we look back 10 years later, 20 years later, we’re so thankful that we actually created jobs by cleaning up our waterways, we created jobs by cleaning up our air, and we’re going to create jobs by cleaning up carbon dioxide pollution as well.

According those fighting against action to protect the Ozone layer, eliminating CFCs would mean that refrigeration would be so expensive that only rich people like the Rockefellers or Hiltons families would be able to afford it. Don’t know about you, but my milk isn’t going bad due to refrigeration being too expensive for my household.

According to those who fought against action to reduce acid rain, tackling sulphur emissions from coal-fired electricity would be so expensive that American households wouldn’t be able to light their homes. Don’t know about you, but there are an awful lot of people in my neighborhood watching TV in the evening — with the lights on.

And, so on …

Tackling carbon pollution provides us (the U.S.) an opportunity to seize value while protecting our future. Fossil fuel pollution is costing Americans, year-in and year-out, well over $100 billion per year in additional health care costs. Those costs: increased risk of cancer, asthma and other ailments for you, me, and our children. Fossil fuel pollution is acidifying our oceans. The exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels is devastating our lands and seas. And, while our exploitation of fossil fuels enabled the creation of our modern economy, our exploitation of fossil fuels has become a dependency well described by President George W. Bush as an addiction. Our addiction is placing us at ever greater risk for catastrophic collapse.

But, tackling that addiction can and will create opportunities. Money overseas for oil would be better spent here creating a stronger America. As Senator Merkley put it.

I can tell you it absolutely infuriates me that we’re spending a billion dollars a day on oil from the Middle East and countries like Venezuela that don’t share our interests. Now, I just came back through Kuwait, and they’re building gorgeous towers with our American money. And if you want our dollars to go out of this country and build towers in Kuwait, then go on fighting for that policy. But if you want to create jobs in America, let’s keep that money here. Let’s create red white and blue jobs in America creating renewable energy and keep those dollars in our economy, rather than sending them overseas so that dictators in far-away countries can build shiny new towers.

And, this isn’t just about ‘shiny new towers’, not just about health, not just about jobs, but also fundamentally about national security.

As Senator Merkley put it, “we need to have a direct conversation”.

I think we need to have a direct conversation about the damage to our national security of dependence on oil overseas. We need to have an honest conversation about the hemorrhaging of our dollars going overseas rather than creating jobs here in America. And we need to have an honest conversation about the impact of carbon dioxide pollution. The EPA is right at the middle of that conversation, and thank you for putting together a budget that presents a responsible and honest and straightforward approach to taking on this challenge and the challenge of creating jobs here in America. We can create jobs as we work to change the use of carbon dioxide being produced by our vehicles. We can take and produce a tremendous number of jobs as we pursue energy saving retrofits in our buildings.

And, well, we have a choice about where we wish to send our money.

We absolutely have the chance to take and develop energy here, so that we are making our energy payments to Americans, not to Kuwaitis.

It is time for “a direct conversation,” a conversation that President Obama could spark.

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Tags: emissions · Energy · environmental

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