On Labor Day, President Obama pledged to “keep fighting every single day, every single hour, every single minute to turn this economy around and put people back to work.” If job creation is such an overarching priority, the president might take a closer look at the recent barrage of job-suffocating actions from his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The president might also look at Texas, where job creation and environmental improvement have occurred simultaneously and at a pace far above the national average.
Texas has been the engine of the current economic recovery, creating more than half of net job growth across the country in the last twelve months. From 2000 to 2009, while Texas created more jobs than all the other states combined, it simultaneously lowered its ozone levels 22 percent; the nation as a whole lowered its ozone level only 8 percent. Houston, which had long been vying with Los Angeles for the title of the most ozone-polluted city in the country, achieved the federally required ozone standard last year. In fact, all Texas urban regions met the federal standard except Dallas/Fort Worth, which exceeded the standard by only one part per billion. Stringent but targeted controls, cutting-edge science, innovative technology, billions of dollars invested by the state and private industry, and the volunteer efforts of thousands of Texans drove the improvements in air quality. The state designed and implemented the undertaking largely in cooperation with EPA.
Since January 2009, however, EPA has behaved more as a “fearsome master” than as a partner with states and businesses. Giving short shrift to the restraints the Constitution places on federal action, EPA has begun to serially invalidate the air-quality rules through which Texas implements the federal Clean Air Act (CAA). In July 2010, EPA disapproved the 16-year-old Texas Flexible Permitting Program, under which more than 120 of the state’s major industries, including most refineries, currently operate. The program imposes tight facility-wide emission caps while providing plant operators some operational flexibility.
EPA considers the program insufficient, and thus believes permit holders to be in violation of the CAA and potentially subject to enforcement. This legal limbo freezes business decisions and obstructs job creation. Affected businesses include Motiva, whose planned $3.5 billion oil refinery would create thousands of new jobs. “Regulatory uncertainty is the enemy of economic development,” commented an executive for Valero Energy Corporation. “If you can’t estimate the value of the project, you don’t make the investment.”
Over most of its 40-year history, EPA has strengthened environmental standards in a relatively incremental manner, allowing some measure of balance between environmental and economic needs. Using this strategy, the agency has effected much genuine environmental improvement. But for today’s EPA, no economic impact is too onerous. The agency is issuing edicts of unprecedented scope at breakneck speed, and with little justification and few identified benefits.
New environmental rules threaten entire sectors of the economy, such as coal-fired power plants, which now provide 50 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. If, as President Obama has repeatedly declared, the goal is truly “to end the era of fossil fuels in our generation” — although no viable alternatives exist — EPA is blazing the path.
Consider EPA’s new emission standards for industrial boilers, just one of more than 25 rules promulgated under the CAA in the last 18 months. Unions for Jobs and the Environment, a coalition of major labor unions, formed to oppose this and other new EPA mandates. In comments on the boiler rule, the United Steelworkers noted: “Tens of thousands of these jobs will be imperiled. In addition many more tens of thousands of jobs in the supply chains and in the communities where these plants are located also will be at risk.”