Regulating America out of jobs | Don Brunell

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce looked at the cost of regulations in America and found that excessive regulations are undercutting our economy and costing us jobs.

Federal rules alone in the past few years have exploded and the Chamber finds it cost our nation $1.7 trillion. State labor and employment law resulted in the loss of U.S. 700,000 jobs. On the other hand, paring back state regulations which exceed federal standards alone would spawn 50,000 new businesses each year.

The Chamber report is not an indictment on government regulations, per se. Most regulations serve a good purpose.

For example, we all want to fly safely and air traffic controllers are there to enforce stringent rules. Health inspections in restaurants, grocery stores and medical facilities are other examples of necessary government rules.

But it is the over reach of government which seems more prevalent today. That trend toward excessive and unachievable regulation is hurting employers and American people in the form of job losses, investment opportunities squandered and higher prices for our products and services.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a plethora of new air emission standards clamping down on all sources from homes to factories. Many of the sweeping new rules come under the heading of “Climate Change.”

For example, EPA’s air standards for biomass boilers which burn wood wastes to generate electricity are so stringent that it threatens to kill many projects including some in Washington. These plants take dead, diseased and scrap wood from forests which, if left there, is fuel for wildfires.

Biomass plants are engineered and built to capture air pollutants. However, once forest fires ignite, there are no pollution controls to trap greenhouse gases, collect ash and or abate choking smoke.

Creating jobs, manufacturing goods, and producing energy should be no brainers, but why the wall of red tape?

A primary reason is the balance between jobs and regulations is tipped toward severly restricting or eliminating projects which burn carbon based fuels—natural gas, oil, coal and even wood wastes.

Those rules, while primarily directed at energy projects, also heavily impact the industrial sector, which encompasses manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and construction. That sector accounted for almost a third of total U.S. energy use in 2012.

U.S. manufacturers and farmers compete globally. Many of its competitors operate in countries with lowered environmental standards than ours. In turn, those companies export lower cost products to our country.

For example, China, the world’s leader in exporting cement, and India account for two-thirds of the worldwide cement manufacturing and its facilities, for the most part, do not have the same levels of pollution control.

United States producers account for four percent of the global cement and when including related industries such as concrete, the number of employees is nearly 535,000 with a payroll of approximately $25 billion.

In 2012, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) claimed that 10 cement plants in her home state emitted 225 pounds of mercury in 2009 and wanted EPA to clamp down even harder on the plants.

Reducing emissions takes time and money. For example, before Johnson tagged the industry had already reduced their emissions by 60 percent. Like many American industries, the technology to avoid and clean water and air emissions is evolving. There is test technology in the United Kingdom which will eliminate 95 percent of the emissions from manufacturing cement.

The bottom line is we all want clean air and we don’t want Beijing’s smog or suffocating pollution. The question is how to improve regulations without crippling our economy, tossing people out of work, and keep jobs here in America.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.