Quantcast

Will Congress Jump off the Fiscal Cliff and Into Deep Water by Gutting Environmental and Health Protections?

Climate

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Peter Lehner

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The health cost of power plant pollution is an estimated $100 billion each year, nationwide, when people get sick or die from breathing dirty air. When polluted water makes swimmers sick, the additional public health costs in just two southern California counties has been estimated at $21 to $51 million each year.

In addition to being harmful to our health, pollution is a serious drag on the economy. As Congress attempts to negotiate this country off the edge of the fiscal cliff, it needs to maintain and strengthen the programs that protect our health by keeping pollution out of our air and water. Gutting programs that cut power plant pollution and keep sewage out of our waters will only end up imposing bigger costs down the road.

Congress has already cut programs that help keep our water clean; deeper cuts to these programs would deal a serious blow to the health and prosperity of communities where clean water is not only a source of recreation but a means of economic sustenance. When a beach on Lake Michigan is closed because the water is too polluted for swimmers, it can cost the local economy as much as $37,000 each day.

If your local beach doesn't have the funding to monitor bacteria levels, and the local sewage plant can't get a loan to upgrade its facilities, and climate change is inducing more frequent and heavier rainstorms that overload sewer systems, you have a recipe for an outbreak of waterborne illness—and untold health costs. When federal support for certain clean water programs falls short, municipalities have to rely on local sources of funding to meet their clean water obligations. The burden falls on local taxpayers instead.  

Attacking clean air programs could prove costly as well. Last year in my home state of New York, nearly 300 premature deaths were attributed to pollution from coal-fired power plants. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, the death toll is even steeper. Our study examining emissions from just 26 coal-fired power plants puts the estimated cost of their pollution at $24 billion—and that's just in 2011 alone. Imagine if the enforcement of laws that keep polluters accountable, and the monitoring of air quality that helps alert people at risk to stay inside on bad air days, got worse instead of better. How much money would we really be saving?

Pollution is expensive. But the flipside is that the relatively small investments we make in protecting clean air and water have staggeringly high returns, as my colleague, economist Laurie Johnson, points out. A peer-reviewed study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that in 2010, Clean Air Act amendments to reduce power plant pollution—and therefore reducing the number of premature deaths, illness and lost work days due to bad air—brought $1.3 trillion in health and environmental benefits, for a cost of just $50 billion. That's a benefit-to-cost ratio of 26 to 1. From a business perspective, this is a dream investment. 

State revolving funds for clean water, which lend money to municipalities for  infrastructure projects such as building and repairing wastewater treatment plants, have created an estimated 1.4 to 2 million jobs since 1988. (Some of these jobs are pending right now, for example, in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, according to my colleague Jon Devine). In the Chesapeake Bay these programs have helped improve water quality, boosting annual boating, fishing, and swimming revenue by $357.9 million to $1.8 billion. Clean water is clearly an asset worth protecting.

Clean air and clean water programs have proved their worth by any yardstick. These investments protect our health, help keep our air clean and safe to breathe, and our lakes, rivers, and beaches clean and safe for swimming. They can also create jobs, generate revenue, and save money while doing so. Putting these cost-effective programs on the chopping block will not help solve our debt crisis.

Here's what should be on the table: eliminating subsidies for the oil and gas industry. There's an instant $4 billion a year back in our coffers, instead of in the pockets of some of world's most profitable corporations. A budget deal for the American people should put our health over the profits of polluters. 

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER and AIR pages for more related news on this topic.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Arx0nt / Moment / Getty Images

By Taylor Jones, RD

Oats are a highly nutritious grain with many health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

Get ready to toast bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. National Pollinator Week is June 17-23 and it's a perfect time to celebrate the birds, bugs and lizards that are so essential to the crops we grow, the flowers we smell, and the plants that produce the air we breathe.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Alexander Spatari / Moment / Getty Images

It seems like every day a new diet is declared the healthiest — paleo, ketogenic, Atkins, to name a few — while government agencies regularly release their own recommended dietary guidelines. But there may not be an ideal one-size-fits-all diet, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Logging shown as part of a thinning and restoration effort in the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon on Oct. 22, 2014. Oregon Department of Forestry / CC BY 2.0

The U.S Forest Service unveiled a new plan to skirt a major environmental law that requires extensive review for new logging, road building, and mining projects on its nearly 200 million acres of public land. The proposal set off alarm bells for environmental groups, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less
Maskot / Getty Images

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

It's easy to wonder which foods are healthiest.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Homes in Washington, DC's Brookland neighborhood were condemned to clear room for a highway in the 1960s. The community fought back. Brig Cabe / DC Public Library

By Teju Adisa-Farrar & Raul Garcia

In the summer of 1969 a banner hung over a set of condemned homes in what was then the predominantly black and brown Brookland neighborhood in Washington, DC. It read, "White man's roads through black men's homes."

Earlier in the year, the District attempted to condemn the houses to make space for a proposed freeway. The plans proposed a 10-lane freeway, a behemoth of a project that would divide the nation's capital end-to-end and sever iconic Black neighborhoods like Shaw and the U Street Corridor from the rest of the city.

Read More Show Less
Demonstrators outside a Republican presidential debate in Detroit in 2016. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Michigan prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against government officials involved in the Flint water crisis Thursday, citing concerns about the investigation they had inherited from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) appointed by former Attorney General Bill Schuette, CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Samara Heisz / iStock / Getty Images

New York state has joined California, West Virginia, Arizona, Mississippi and Maine in ending religious exemptions for parents who prefer not to vaccinate their children, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less