I must admit, I too often fail to pay as close attention to environmental politics as I should, so the EPA’s new rulings on mercury would’ve largely slipped by my radar if not for Drum and Ezra’s blog. It’s also one of those things, yet again, that make me appreciate the power of blogs as policy-wise, this is a very big deal, but I certainly didn’t get that impression from whatever 12-point headlines were in the Post and Times. Brad Plumer summarizes costs and benefits:
Indeed, the EPA estimates that the regulation will produce $37 billion to $90 billion in health benefits by 2016 (compared with clean-up costs of about $9.6 billion). Confusingly, though, most of these estimated benefits don’t actually come from reducing mercury pollution. So where do they come from? And just how big a dealare these rules?
First, some background. Plenty of evidence suggests that mercury — a neurotoxin — inflicts quite a bit of harm on the public. A 2005study in Environmental Health Perspectives, for instance, looked at the effects of mercury poisoning on the brains of fetuses. It found that 637,000 babies were born each year with significant amounts of mercury in their bloodstream, with about two-thirds of those kids suffering IQ loss. The authors estimated that the lost economic productivity due to decreased intelligence came to about $8.7 billion per year [emphasis mine], with $1.3 billion of that attributable to power plants.
Short version: costs/benefit wise, this is a huge win for the American public. And the benefits go well beyond the dollar value. We are talking about avoiding the travesty of needlessly destroying Americans’ actual intelligence.
Despite the really obvious benefits, this is exactly the policy that’s hard to get passed. Most people aren’t even aware of the benefit they will recieve and it probably works out to something like a mean .7 IQ point per person or something like that. And surely, most people think it will be other people and their children who suffer the effects of mercury and particulate matter. Meanwhile, the polluters are the ones to bear the cost, so they fight tooth and nail against it.
What pisses me off, is that Republicans generally seem eager to help them in their efforts to diminish the overall intelligence and respiratory health of Americans. Talk about a regulation that’s a no-brainer, but I think Republicans have become so reflexively and unthinkingly anti-government and anti-regulation, that even something that makes so much economic sense is perceived as unnecessary and intrusive government regulation. Frustrating.
Finally, this is a great example of why political control of the bureaucracy matters. Even given the huge economic benefits of this regulation, does anybody seriously think an EPA under Republican-appointed leadership would’ve enacted it? So, maybe a future child/grandchild of yours will breather easier or be smarter because Obama’s president. And if not, somebody else’s child will. And you’ll benefit– like all Americans– from their increased economic productivity.