Regulatory Reform: Fighting for the Nation's Health

by Joanna Waugh

An opinion/editorial piece published October 1995 by The National Center for Public Policy Research

"Republican Congress seeks to gut environmental protection," blares the newspaper headline. GOP leaders in Congress are "conducting jihad" against the nation's environmental protection policies, declares Vice President Gore. "Why [do] they want to do such things," marvels New York Times columnist, Anthony Lewis. "They breathe the same air as the rest of us... [and] rely on the same protections against environmental hazards."

After more than two decades of punitive regulation, and the expenditure of billions of dollars, Americans have been told that dirty air and polluted water still threaten public health. Airborne emissions have decreased 34% since 1970 and the average life span has increased five years, yet taxpayers are expected to believe pollution is a greater health threat today than it was twenty-five years ago.

Take the issue of pesticides and fertilizers. Common sense says that, if these chemicals are a prime cause of cancer, death rates should be the highest in agricultural states where their use is most prevalent. The national average for cancer is 172 deaths per 100,000 people. Washington, D.C.'s cancer death rate is 230 per 100,000. Yet Iowa, a leading farm state, possesses a cancer death rate of 158 per 100,000.

Hoosier Environmental Council and the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, recently published a report claiming eight pesticides were discovered in the water systems of Indianapolis, Richmond, Ft. Wayne, and Muncie, Indiana between May and June of 1995. The inference seems to be that the health of residents in these cities is in jeopardy.

A closer look at the report, however, tells a different story. For example, Muncie's average level of atrazine was .02 part per billion (ppb), Indianapolis' average was 3.04 ppb, Ft. Wayne's was 3.69 in , and Richmond's was 1.10 ppb. These levels may seem significant, but consider this: One (1.00) part per billion is the equivalent of an aspirin dropped in an Olympic-size swimming pool of water.

Something is clearly wrong when such minute chemical levels frighten Americans.Also wrong is the charge that Congress is conducting "jihad" against the environment. It is not. Under current EPA standards, for example, it costs $168 million to save one life from benzene exposure. By 1989, Amoco Oil Company had spent $31 million to eliminate benzene, with little impact on the total amount emitted from its refineries. Frustrated, the company invited EPA officials to leave behind their "windowless rooms in Washington piled high with scientific evidence and legal briefs," and view their regulations in action. Amoco's benzene emissions were no where near the smokestacks the EPA had targeted. The most significant releases occurred when barges were filled with fuel at dock side. Amoco had spent millions on "scrubbers," when all it really needed were different gas nozzles.

The cost difference could have reduced oil and gas prices, created new jobs, improved the benefits and wages of existing workers, or been plowed back into corporate profits. Instead, the money, quite literally, went up in smoke.

If dialogue between regulators and the industries they regulate continues to be feared, Americans can expect little environmental improvement beyond current levels. They can also expect the price tag to keep going up. Right now, this nation spends $111 million to prevent one death from asbestos and $92.1 billion to prevent one death from atrazine and alachlor in drinking water. Regulatory reform could mean lower prices and more money to feed, clothe, and house the people of this nation.

Abraham Lincoln is purported to have made the following observation: "If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool some of the people all the time." Can this nation get beyond rhetoric and fear-mongering? Can it embrace a more reasoned and balanced approach to environmental protection? Claims that health and safety protections will suffer under Republican regulatory reform have fooled the public and caused unnecessary concern. The truth is taxpayers are more likely to enjoy increased health and safety protections under proposed regulatory reforms.

by Joanna Waugh, a board member of the Alliance for America -- a national umbrella group of over 1,000 property rights and resource provider organizations


The National Center for Public Policy Research

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