If Congress Guts Even More Environmental Rules, How Many Jobs Will Be Gained?


WPA Band Playing In Lafayette Square, New Orleans, 1940 Image credit:Flickr, infrogmation

President Obama is unlikely to address this headline question in his speech on jobs, nor will Republicans in their upcoming presidential primary debate. The short answer to my subject headline is that killing environmental regulations, as Republican candidates have espoused, won't bring the jobs back.

There would be two unstated benefits of Congress further gutting environmental laws and regulations. One would be to divert attention from the fact that US employment has been eroded severely over the last three decades by the free trade pacts strongly favored by elected officials of both US political parties. Here's but one sample: Captain Climate, Al Gore, pushed for global trade agreements in his 2000 Presidential bid. See OnTheIssues for details. (It always amazed me that this line of attack was overlooked in favor of the usual 'he flies in airplanes and has a mansion.')The second unstated benefit of killing EPA off would be to defend the existing markets of of material and energy intensive corporations that can't, as a practical matter, relocate operations to Asia or the Middle East. I'm talking about the markets of mining and oil and gas companies, utilities, refineries, railroad and trucking firms, chemical plants, cement kilns, brick, tile, and glass production, and so on.

Uncontrolled pollution is destiny
US jobs that moved to Asia and South America will remain there. Unless China goes through a Cultural Revolution II, you can pretty much forget about bringing them back - wind turbine and solar panel factory jobs included.

If we could, hypothetically, bring the lost jobs back, with or without environmental rules we would become more dependent upon fossil fuels and emit still more pollutants to air land and water. (We encouraged China to foul their nest, by proxy. If the jobs Asians gained returned to the USA we would foul ours commensurately - assuming EPA is killed off.) Meanwhile, people working as environmental engineers and treatment plant operators and constructors of pollution control equipment and distributors of pollution control supplies would lose their jobs. Not to mention environmental inspectors and administrators at government agencies.

High tech vs elbow grease and stamina..
There are some tasks that just can't be done better by expensive, high-tech robots: like schlepping polyester resin on fiberglass battens stretched over turbine blade forms, running a chemical reactor vessel, or soldering a wire to a tiny connector inside a corner of an iPOD case. As long as Asian and Mexican workers will do those tasks for a tenth of the cost of doing it in the USA, gutting environmental regs won't bring the jobs back home.

Market changes.
Most US households already have a car (more than 90% at last count). Only a relatively few EV's will be sold as replacements and the viability of that market has more to do with fuel pricing than emission standards. Important note: gutting environmental regs for air quality protection, automotive emission standards in particular. removes any non-fuel cost related incentive to build more electric cars, hence reducing the number of jobs.

Home sweet home.
Renting is increasingly popular. The work of building Mega-Mansions and exurban cluster developments on the massive scale seen before 2009 is likely gone, unlikely to return again in our lifetimes - hopefully never. Except for wetland exclusionary regulations, environmental regs have no special impact on one versus the other category of building. Anyway, who want's to build in a wetland after seeing what happened in low areas of New Jersey and Vermont during hurricane Irene?

LEED, a voluntary system for reshaping construction objectives, has some traction, but is not codified in regulations.

Food
USEPA reports that "There are over 285,000,000 people living in the United States. Of that population, less than 1% claim farming as an occupation (and about 2% actually live on farms). There are only about 960,000 persons claiming farming as their principal occupation and a similar number of farmers claiming some other principal occupation. The number of farms in the U.S. stands at about two million."

Think gutting environmental regs will bring lots more jobs to traditional or to organic farms? Self answering question, I would hope.

Clothes.
Made elsewhere using ultra-cheap labor.

Conclusion.
I could go on but I think you see the point. Gutting environmental regulations will NOT bring the jobs back.

As to why the jobs went overseas in the first place, it was never just about pollution control costs being less. That was just one factor. Then was then and now is now.

What are we going to do to make some jobs? Any jobs, green included? With capital markets as slow as they are, I promise you it won't be anything related to green building and the supply chain for green building materials.

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