How Clean Air Makes Money

Republicans and a handful of Democrats in Congress are now engaged in a strange and counter-productive game of trying to weaken, delay, or outright eliminate authority of government agencies to enforce the Clean Air Act. One of the most important environmental laws in US history, the Clean Air Act is all that stands between millions of US residents and illnesses like asthma, heart disease, and cancer. Updating and strengthening the Clean Air Act rather than weakening it could prevent millions more cases of illness and death, but instead conservative industry allies are trying to do the opposite.

If you’ve kept up with this ongoing story on Justmeans, you know multiple polls have shown that chipping away at the Clean Air Act is unpopular with a majority of Americans. Now a series of studies summed up in a report by the Environmental Protection Agency itself demonstrates that weakening the predominant US clean air law is also detrimental to creating jobs and economic growth. The Clean Air Act has in fact been creating jobs for decades already.

The new study looks at projected economic benefits versus costs of the Clean Air Act in the thirty years between 1990 and 2020. It turns out the benefits exceed costs by a ratio of over thirty to one. The projected monetary benefits of the Clean Air Act as amended in the year 1990 will total up to a stunning $2 trillion by the year 2020. Meanwhile the law has helped clear the skies of pollution, restore scenic areas, and keep communities healthy. Talk about a win-win situation.

Of course for those whose family members are at risk, the benefits of reduced exposure to pollution are hard to quantify in monetary terms. In the year 2010, the EPA estimates the Clean Air Act prevented 1,700,000 cases of exacerbated asthma and 160,000 cases of adult mortality caused by exposure to pollution particulates. It also prevented eighty-six thousand emergency room visits and thirteen million lost work days. By 2020 the benefits are expected to be even greater, at least if the Clean Air Act is allowed to continue doing its job.

Under the existing Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to update pollution limits from time to time to bring regulations into line with the latest science. Now, for the first time in years, the EPA is moving to do just that. The agency is also moving forward on regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as it was ordered to do by the US Supreme Court. This work to protect public health has the fossil fuel industries seeing red, and has prompted the barrage of attacks on the Clean Air Act by members of Congress.

As they rush headlong into attacking a law that’s proven to have saved millions of lives and saved trillions of dollars, whose interests are lawmakers really looking out for?

Photo credit: Oregon Department of Transportation