Earth Day: For Many, Not Much Cause for Celebration

Benita Dodd Vice President Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Benita Dodd
Vice President
Georgia Public Policy Foundation

By Benita M. Dodd

“Climate change has many faces,” notes the Web site for Earth Day 2013, which takes place Monday, April 22. “A man in the Maldives worried about relocating his family as sea levels rise, a farmer in Kansas struggling to make ends meet as prolonged drought ravages the crops … the polar bear in the melting arctic, the tiger in India’s threatened mangrove forests. …” It’s a lengthy list. Unfortunately, it’s incomplete.

It’s time to add a few more faces to the pitiful environment painted by Earth Day organizers.

An entrepreneur and small business shouldering the regulatory burden. The Small Business Administration reports that compliance with environmental regulations costs small businesses 364 percent more than large firms. The National Federation of Independent Business notes, “Since 2009, the EPA has tried to impose extremely costly rules that yield little incremental benefit over current standards. With the agency’s 2010 finding that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health, the agency has rapidly cranked out several regulatory proposals under its Clean Air Act authority. These regulations will unduly burden small business with rising energy and compliance costs.” And those costs are passed on to Americans through fewer jobs and higher prices.

Georgia motorists who must await congestion relief for up to another 18 months because of federal studies involving nearly a half-billion dollars’ worth of road projects after a lone, endangered Indiana bat was found near a construction zone. Ironically, as an article by retired Georgia Tech professor James Rust points out, “In Indiana, the origin of Indiana bats, thousands of bats perish annually due to wind farms in Benton County where no standards to protect bat habitats are enforced.”

The landowner deprived of use of his land. Private property rights become secondary to agency regulations when rare or endangered flora or fauna are found onsite, or an arbitrary stream buffer zone is imposed. From spotted owls to dolphins, whales, woodpeckers, snail darters, tortoises and mollusks, environmental regulations trump economic considerations. The economic damage to landowners can be devastating. The Seattle Times reported recently that California farmers are petitioning to take Puget Sound’s killer whales off the endangered-species list. The orcas were listed in 2005, leading to irrigation cutbacks to protect the fish they eat. Farmers say it’s harder to get bank loans, pay workers and expand their operations.

The thousands of unemployed Americans who could have been constructing the Canada-to-Texas Keystone oil pipeline project. President Obama’s reluctance to approve the project before the election was politically savvy: He faced the NIMBY environmental activists on one side and the job-seeking labor unions on the other. Now, however, the administration’s foot-dragging is unforgivable on a project that could provide 20,000 direct jobs, enhance domestic energy security and strengthen bonds with our neighbor, Canada. Instead, it appears, China will benefit.

The millions of Americans hurt by higher prices because of overbearing environmental regulations and renewable energy requirements. Domestic exploration and drilling have met agency opposition while other countries operate with less environmental responsibility and accountability. Requirements for regional “boutique fuels” during the summer smog months raise the price of gas and strain the infrastructure. Just this month, construction began on the first U.S. domestic oil refinery since 1976; it’s no wonder that one refinery accident or acts of nature puts the national supply at risk.

The vastly improved environment. Ahead of Earth Day 2013, the EPA released its 18th annual report of overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions this week, showing a 1.6 percent decrease in 2011 over 2010. Today, cars are cleaner, factories are cleaner, power plants are cleaner and environmental awareness has grown immensely. Year over year, the environment improves yet the regulation strangulation does not. It’s a vicious cycle of activist groups suing agencies to impose tougher regulations, agencies settling and taxpayers paying litigation costs, only to see the group sue again. Some groups maintain the EPA is in collusion with activist groups.

This Earth Day, remember that education opens the door to economic opportunity, which improves wealth and provides individuals and families with the resources and assets to improve their quality of life. Overzealous regulation impairs the climate – the job climate – and hampers environmental protection. But ultimately, there is nothing like private property rights to instill a sense of environmental responsibility. If you don’t believe that, compare your backyard after a party and a public park after a concert. 

Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, state-focused think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
©Georgia Public Policy Foundation (April 19, 2013). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.