Understanding Clean Air Act’s Value Just a few weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency released the Second Prospective Study of the CAA’s costs and benefits for 1990 through 2020.  An idea of the benefits, in 2010: over 3 million fewer missed school days; 13 million fewer missed work days; 1.7 million fewer extreme ashtma cases; etc … All of these benefits add up to, well, higher quality lives for Americans and direct financial value.

Our central benefits estimate exceeds costs by a factor of more than 30 to one, and the high benefits estimate exceeds costs by 90 times. Even the low benefits estimate exceeds costs by about three to one.

As Andy Stevenson’s discussion of the CAA opened in 2010:

What if I were to tell you that we are all shareholders in an investment  vehicle that has produced better returns than Warren Buffett’s  Berkshire Hathaway over the past forty years. Strange as it seems it’s  true. Stranger yet, that investment vehicle is called the Clean Air Act.

Enforcement of and compliance with the CAA cost some $500 billion between 1970 and 1990. Sadly, in U.S. political culture, the discussion often ends there. That horrific $500 billion cost which, I promise you too many industry groups would assert without shame, so hobbled the U.S. economy.  Yes, hobbled it so much that the analyzed benefits from the cost totaled some $22.1 trillion dollars due to reduced health care costs, improved productivity, and other benefits that have accrued to us (the U.S. and all of us). (graphics on benefits) And, of course, that fiscal number doesn’t even remotely begin to account for the avoided pain and suffering — emotional and physical — due to the reduced pollution.As Andy put it:

While these investments in cleaner air, water and reduced death are indeed significant, they pale in comparison to the $22.1 trillion in benefits gained by its shareholders, the American people, over this time frame from lower mortality, fewer cases of chronic illness, and less frequent trips to the hospital.

Sadly, as a shareholder on Wall Street, my investments that have paid back 44+ times over the cost are rare and far between. (After all, like too many Americans, my 401(k) seemed to migrate to a 301(k) to a 201(k) over the past decade.)  And, well, the CAA’s payoff has even beaten Warren Buffett’s returns at Berkshire Hathaway.Looking at the very strong — and essentially guaranteed — payoff from CAA regulatory efforts, it seems rather flabbergasting that aRockefeller would want to be a leadership position to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce the law.  Prior to the Senate’s ending of its session, Senator Rockefeller sought to force a vote to suspend the EPA’s ability to move forward with climate-change related actions under the CAA for the next two years.  Presented, rather farcically, as somehow necessary to give the Congress breathing space to act with climate-mitigation related legislation,

The time has come for us to make a decision on the energy future of our  country. I have spent this year fighting to make sure that Congress, not  the EPA, determines how best to reduce greenhouse gases

Rockefeller’s efforts seemed to show how contributions to him from coal-industry and other fossil-foolish interests could gain a high return in legislative action rather than paying any attention to the very high value for America and the American people derived from thoughtful EPA regulation executing the Clean Air Act.Rockefeller’s drive to undermine the EPA was — and is — at odds with the bests interests of America and nearly all Americans. It was — and is — at odds with the views of essentially all the relevant experts.  As Pete Altman noted in discussing Rockefeller’s efforts, in early December

a broad spectrum of 284 national and state medical, public health and other groups representing all 50 states, including the American Lung Association,  American Public Health Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and  American College of Preventive Medicine, urged Congressto ?defend the Clean Air Act and to reject any measure that would block  or delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing its  job to protect all Americans from life-threatening air pollution.The groups made very clearwhat’s  at stake, stating Over the coming years the EPA will be fulfilling its  duty to reduce the smog and soot pollution, air toxics, and global  warming pollution that are the cause of these public health threats.  We  urge you to fully support the EPA in fulfilling this responsibility.

While Rockefeller failed to force through this anti-American action prior to the Senate’s departure for Christmas, that failure doesn’t derive from his realization of what a great investment CAA enforcement has been for the American people. No, instead, it came from his understanding that Republican colleagues wished to take the lead on this in the next Congress rather than allow a Democratic politician to have a leading role in undermining Americans’ health and prosperity.

I have been reliably informed that long-time Republican proponents of my bill to suspend EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions have pulled their support for this year? so that they can gain some political advantage trying to take over this issue in 2011

Well, anti-science syndrome suffering Republicans like Upton and Inhofe are seeking to defund the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They are seeking cutting its funding by one-third.  And, the House Republicans are voting against science on party line votes (Committee From Koch Votes To Deny Climate Change) as they seek to destroy the EPA’s ability to protect Americans and provide a strong return on investment for pollution reduction measures.Now, in comes the cavalry in the name of Jay Rockefeller.

Senator Jay Rockefeller this evening filed an amendment that would suspend Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources for two years. The amendment, which mirrors his legislation (S. 231), came up during a separate debate on small business funding. Rockefeller encouraged his colleagues to support his amendment and announced that he will oppose efforts by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to forever block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Couple things here. 1.  The American public supports the Clean Air Act. By ‘sneaking’ this amendment onto the Small Business legislation, Rockefeller likely seeks to avoid much of the attention that a separate bill might create. 2.  While we don’t have two years to wait, this is the sort of ‘moderate compromise’ that works so well in the political system that is so destructive to making progress toward a more prosperous, climate-friendly future.

I won’t support a total dismantling of the EPA, and I am disappointed with Republican efforts to bring up this legislation, which has no chance of ever becoming law. This is more of a political ploy, rather than a genuine effort to come up with a solid energy policy, said Rockefeller. We must approach this issue with long and short views for our country and our energy policy. My legislation would safeguard jobs, secure a future for the U.S. coal industry, and protect the entire economy as we move toward clean coal technology. Now is the time to encourage companies to invest in new technologies and create jobs, and we need a system that gives major employers the framework to do so and to succeed. Additionally, many of us agree that Congress, not the EPA, must be the decision-maker on such a challenging issue.

So, Jay Rockefeller wants the nation to put off getting the benefits from sensible EPA regulation that will provide significant benefits because we need “a solid energy policy” to emerge from Congress?  Do we want to cry or laugh at the absurdity of this commentary. 1.  Putting a two-year delay doesn’t “give major employers the framework … to invest in new technologies and create jobs”. Instead, it fosters continued regulatory uncertainty which is one reason why businesses aren’t investing. 2.  Jay Rockefeller is spouting off truthiness that detours from truth into industry (Chamber of Commerce and Koch) talking points.  EPA regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act will contribute to a stronger economy, rather than backing it. 3. Of course, what is Jay about?  “Secure a future for the U.S. coal industry” even if it comes at the expense of thousands of lives a year and ever-greater risks of catastrophic climate chaos devastating America’s future prospects. Political reality at odds with reality Republicans seeking political gain through attacking measures that will undermine American security, health, and prosperity — with at least, it seems, one reliable Democratic Party vote to support this attack on a fantastic investment opportunity.