Economic Hokum

The cornerstone of congressional Republicans' case against the Obama administration's environmental agenda is that it economically stifles merchants and consumers alike.

This GOP line of attack on environmental reform has been around for decades, but it has a credibility problem. For the most part, corporate America has done just fine in the aftermath of the environmental regulations it lambasted as signaling its demise.

Indeed, the business leaders who protested the loudest have often been the ones with the strongest balance sheets after the fact.

Republican Cassandras take another hit when it is pointed out that the nation's gross domestic product has risen 220 percent since the inception of the 1970 Clean Air Act.

Then we have many Republican lawmakers grousing that electricity bills are skyrocketing and especially hurting the poor when utilities are required to deliver a percentage of their power from renewable energy sources.

It is a complaint that rings hollow. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory have found that in most states where a mandatory renewable energy standard has been enacted, monthly electricity bills have increased by less than 2 percent, or a $1.60 on an $80 monthly charge, on average.

What about the compliance costs that anti-air-pollution regulations impose on the energy industry? Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analysts estimate that electricity rates will be slightly higher as a result. Using their analogy, the increase will amount to the price of a gallon of milk a month, hardly a fatal blow for even the most modest of wage earners.

EPA does estimate that anti-pollution regulations overall will cost the average household an extra $45 annually by 2020, and $65 by 2030. But here is the thing: EPA projects that greater energy efficiency will offset most if not all of the increase in costs for consumers.

Industry, of course, offers grimmer numbers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims that regulations to reduce global-warming-related greenhouse-gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants will cause some facilities to shut down and cost the industry a crippling $50 billion annually.

But industry inflates the costs. Natural gas, wind, solar and other coal substitutes are becoming cheaper as time passes. Industry also downplays the benefits, including a significant lowballing of the positive impact of energy efficiency.

The Republican lawmakers' case is further weakened when the public-health and climate-related benefits of carbon-emission reduction are taken into account. EPA calculates that the benefits to life, limb, and property exceed by three to 12 times the $5 billion to $8 billion it will cost to implement the regulation.

As for the poor taking it on the chin because of possible slight increases in energy bills due to environmental regulation, consider this: If climate change and other global pollution issues are not addressed in a timely fashion, it's the poor who will be the first to experience the consequences, and they will be the least able to cope.

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