LTV Steel Company's recent decision to close its Pittsburgh Works coke ovens in Hazelwood reignited an old debate - do environmental regulations cost U.S. workers jobs?
The answer, in a word, is "no."
Study after study has clearly shown that the U.S. economy is not adversely effected by environmental regulation. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. Care of the environment is a growth industry, creating new jobs, new revenues and new companies.
Since the advent of the Environ- mental Protection Agency in 1970, the number of environmental laws and regulations has grown steadily, encompassing clean air, clean water, toxic wastes and hazardous chemicals ranging from pesticides to plutonium.
There can be no argument that today the United States is cleaner, safer and healthier than it was 25 years ago. Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, we have doubled the miles of swimmable and fishable rivers.
Overall air pollution has declined by 29 percent since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, even though the number of vehicle miles traveled has increased by 111 percent. And this remarkable progress has occurred at a time when the population grew by 28 percent and the economy as measured by Gross Domestic Product has nearly doubled.
In separate studies, the World Resources Institute and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that strict environmental regulation did not hurt the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing companies even in such environmentally sensitive industries as oil, chemical, steel and paper.
The reasons are numerous. Pollution control costs run a modest 1 percent to 3 percent of sales in most industries. And, a focus on reducing waste costs has led industrial leaders to adopt new manufacturing processes that are increasingly efficient, thereby reducing waste and increasing profits.
Clean air, clean water and the safe use and disposal of hazardous chemicals are costly undertakings in the United States. But they also produce enormous economic, as well as environmental, benefits.
- Estimates are that the United States saves more than $1 billion PER DAY because of the Clean Air Act, with savings coming from reduced hospital costs, lost workdays, reduced productivity and other adverse conditions that result from smog and dirty air.
- Clean water efforts, too, result in a boon to the economy. In addition to health care savings, clean water is the backbone of the nation's $45 billion commercial fishing and shellfish industry, and a key component of the $380 billion tourism industry.
- Pollution control has become a major growth industry of its own, this year generating a whopping $300 billion worldwide market for environmental technology and producing 1.3 million U.S. jobs. Pennsylvania alone has 6,243 environmental companies generating $9.1 billion in revenues and 67,332 jobs in the Keystone State.
But what about the 750 workers at LTV's coke operation who now face a painful transition because of the declining demand for coke and losses from an outmoded plant? They have labored for decades to support this company, and the region has profited from a lifetime of contributions to their communities. Fortunately, 550 of these workers are eligible for full retirement benefits, and LTV has promised to try to place to other 200 workers elsewhere within the company.
The Hazelwood plant's failure to meet environmental standards is more a symptom of an aging, increasingly unproductive and uneconomical operation than it is a reason for closing the plant, a point company officials readily concede. The plant simply has worn out. EPA officials met with LTV President David Hoag and the region's leading elected federal officials in Washington on July 29 to see if there was any way to keep the plant open. Hoag made it clear that the company's decision to close the 1950s and 1960s-vintage coke ovens is irreversible because of economic reasons.
Accordingly, we pledged to work with LTV to meet environmental standards until the operations finally cease at the end of the year. And we pledged to work tirelessly to resolve any environmental issues that could delay putting the LTV property quickly back into productive use.
It's time to get beyond the old - and erroneous - jobs vs. the environment argument.
High environmental standards are not an impediment to economic development.
Indeed, it is becoming apparent that strong environmental protection is a necessary precondition for a healthy economy. The U.S. economy is the strongest in the world - not in spite of the strict environmental standards that we have adopted over the years - but in part because of those very laws and regulations.
Clean air and good jobs. That's a success story all Americans can be proud of.