We may not have to sacrifice jobs to save the environment.
Even before the Obama administration announced plans on Monday to cut power plant carbon emissions 30 percent by the year 2030, conservatives were already saying the mandate would be a job-killer. The proposed rules, which will be finalized in 2015, will give states one year to come up with plans for the deep cut in emissions from 2005 levels.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned last Wednesday, without even knowing the details, that the new rules would prevent the creation of more than 200,000 jobs a year through 2030. Some Republican lawmakers have put the number even higher.
But energy experts and recent studies suggest otherwise.
In 2010, when the country was debating a clean energy bill aimed at cutting U.S. carbon emissions by 17 percent, the Congressional Budget Office predicted how destructive the law would be for American jobs. The short answer: Not at all.
The report found that overall, unemployment would probably increase in the short term. Workers may lose jobs by the thousands across industries that include coal mining, oil and gas extraction and transportation, the report said. And, it added, people who found new jobs by relocating or by learning new skills would probably be earning lower wages than before.
But the CBO report also said that, as polluting industries like coal mining shrink, industries with fewer carbon emissions would expand -- by as many as a half-million new jobs by 2025. Ultimately, the report found, the nation's employment rate would return to normal.
Environmental regulation experts say that, while the EPA's new rules will inevitably kill jobs in certain industries like coal mining, regulation will be a job-creator.
“States that are heavily coal-dependent will have to shift to some degree away from coal and to other, new resources,” said Dallas Burtraw, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, an environmental policy organization. “The electricity has to come from somewhere, so there will be new facilities built [to produce it].”
Others say the new regulations may not be as burdensome as industry advocates expect. “In the past, the EPA has sometimes underestimated how easy it will be to comply with regulations, and it’s ended up costing less than anticipated,” said Jacob Hollinger, a former Environmental Protection Agency lawyer.
People affected by the rules, from power plant owners to energy investors, should be open-minded, Hollinger said. “This might end up being cheaper than people think.”
In general, the debate about how environmental regulation will affect the economy is so polarized that studies end up with contradictory conclusions. In a 2012 review of more than two dozen such studies, a team of researchers at a New York University think tank found that studies commissioned by big energy companies usually found that regulations increase unemployment, while those by environmental groups found the opposite.
But the most detailed studies, the NYU researchers said, concluded that job losses and gains from such regulations essentially balanced out.
"When serious studies have been done, the impacts tend to be small -- sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but small," think tank director Richard Revesz told HuffPost after the study was released.
Anxiety is a natural consequence of sweeping change, especially when unemployment remains stubbornly high. Patience will go a long way toward helping assess the true impact of the EPA rules.