Freelance writers Stephen Solomon and Willard Randall report that American companies are fighting federal environmental and occupational health and safety regulations by warning that government controls would cause massive plant closings, job losses and rocketing consumer prices. In fact, few factories would have to shut down, many more jobs would be created than lost, and the price increases would be balanced by the savings in pollution damage and health costs.
The EPA, which monitors plant closings that involve 25 or more workers, reported on December 31, 1975, that only 75 plants had closed or curtailed operations because of the cost of complying with the last five years of federal regulations on the environment, with a loss of about 15,700 jobs; and even these dislocations seemed to be concentrated among marginal plants that were already heading for collapse.
The number of lost jobs is offset by the increased employment caused by environmental spending — each $1 billion spent creates 66,900 jobs. A Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) study estimates the total employment related to pollution control at more than a million people. In a study for the EPA and CEQ, Chase Economic Associates estimated by 1982 there would be no visible loss or gain in jobs; and calculated that the consumer price index would only be 0.2 percent higher due to pollution controls.
The CEQ puts the combined public and private cost of meeting federal environmental standards in the decade 1974-1983 at $217.7 billion; for 1975, it was $19 billion. However, pollution of the general environment in 1975, according to the EPA, cost $26.6 billion in air and $10 billion in water pollution damage.
The National Commission on Water Quality in 1975 predicted, excluding health factors, that the cumulative dollar gains from reversing just water pollution would reach $13.5 billion by 1980, $38.6 billion by 1985, and $141.5 billion by 2000. The CEQ said, in December, 1975, “The savings from pollution abatement could be much higher when their cumulative effects in years to come are considered since the benefits will persist long after the installation of the abatement equipment.”
Work-related accidents cause an estimated $11.5 to $24.4 billion loss in reduced wages, lower productivity, administrative costs, and other expenses. The National Cancer Institute says up to 90 percent of all cancer is caused by environmental factors such as chemicals, radiation, and cigarette smoke. Dr. Frank Rausher Jr., director of the institute until 1976, estimates the nations cancer bill at over $21 billion a year in medical costs and lost income.
Americans have been paying artificially low prices for many of the goods and conveniences they enjoy. Lack of adequate controls on occupational and environmental contaminants has meant lower prices at the time of purchase, but the final bill tabulated years later is the cost o£ cancer and other illnesses. “It should be understood,” Russell Train, the former EPA administrator told the New York Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “we really do not have the option of not paying the environmental costs at all. The question is really who shall bear the burden of these costs?”
The lack of mass media coverage on this issue, especially considering its apparent good news for balancing out the quality of life equation, qualifies this story as one of the “best censored stories of 1977.”
The Nation, “Environmental Balance Sheet: Cost Benefits of the Cleanup,” by Stephen Solomon and Willard Randall, October 29, 1977, p.431.