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Senate Doctors: Utility MACT Kills Jobs, Increases Health Risks
June 18, 2012

Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov

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Senate Doctors: Utility MACT Kills Jobs, Increases Health Risks

Call on Administration to take into account the negative health impacts of unemployment 

Link to Letter 

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators and Doctors John Barrasso, M.D. (R-WY), Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), Rand Paul, M.D. (R-KY) and John Boozman, O.D. (R-AR) wrote President Obama outlining the negative health impacts of high unemployment. In their letter, the Senators and Doctors call on President Obama to stop pushing expensive Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, like Utility MACT, that put Americans out of work and into the doctor’s office.  They also call on federal agencies to include negative health impacts of unemployment into the cost/benefit analysis of regulations. 

“As you know, proponents of your EPA’s aggressive agenda claim that regulations that kill jobs and cause electricity prices to skyrocket will somehow be good for the American people.  We come to this issue as medical doctors and would like to offer our ‘second opinion’: EPA’s regulatory regime will devastate communities that rely on affordable energy, children whose parents will lose their jobs, and the poor and elderly on fixed incomes that do not have the funds to pay for higher energy costs,” the Senators wrote.  

TEXT OF THE LETTER: 

June 18, 2012 

The Honorable Barack Obama

President, United States of America

The White House 

Dear President Obama: 

We are writing to express our concern that the barrage of regulations coming out of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designed to end coal in American electricity generation will have a devastating effect on the health of American families.  Just before you made the decision to withdraw EPA’s plan to revise its ozone standard – a plan which would have destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs – your former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley asked the question “What are the health impacts of unemployment?”  Today, we are requesting that you consider your former aide’s question carefully: instead of putting forth rules that create great economic pain which will have a terrible effect on public health, we hope that going forward, you will work with Republicans to craft polices that achieve both environmental protection and economic growth.   

As you know, proponents of your EPA’s aggressive agenda claim that regulations that kill jobs and cause electricity prices to skyrocket will somehow be good for the American people.  We come to this issue as medical doctors and would like to offer our “second opinion”: EPA’s regulatory regime will devastate communities that rely on affordable energy, children whose parents will lose their jobs, and the poor and elderly on fixed incomes that do not have the funds to pay for higher energy costs. The result for public health will be disastrous in ways not seen since the Great Depression.   

One of the centerpieces of your administration’s efforts to stop American coal development is the Utility MACT rule – a rule that has such severe standards it will cause as much as 20 percent of the existing coal-fired power plant fleet to retire. Combined with numerous other actions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Interior Department, and Army Corps of Engineers targeting surface coal mining operations, these rules constitute an aggressive regulatory assault on American coal producers, which will hit areas of the heartland – the Midwest, Appalachia, and the Intermountain West – the hardest. The end result will be joblessness across regions of the country whose livelihoods depend on coal development.  Joblessness will lead to severe health impacts for communities in these regions. 

With regard to the health benefits that EPA claims for Utility MACT, EPA’s own analysis shows us that over 99 percent of the benefits from the rule come from reducing fine particulate matter (PM2.5), not air toxics.  But EPA also states that “[over 90 percent] of the PM2.5-related benefits associated with [Utility MACT] occur below the level of the [NAAQS].”[i] 

Not only are PM emissions distinct from mercury and other toxics, but they are also subject to other regulatory regimes.  For example, Section 108 of the Clean Air Act directs the EPA to set PM emission levels that are “requisite to protect the public health”.[ii]  Thus, EPA is either double-counting the PM benefits already being delivered by existing regulatory regimes, or setting standards beyond those required to protect public health.   

EPA estimates that the cost of the rule will be around $11 billion annually, but that it will yield no more than $6 million in benefits from reducing mercury and other air toxics.  So by the agency’s own calculations, Utility MACT completely fails the cost/benefit test.   

When looking at this analysis, the only conclusion is that Utility MACT, as well as the many other EPA rules that cost billions but yield few benefits are not about public health.  They are about ending coal development and the good paying jobs it provides. 

We are not the only members in the medical field that are concerned about the effects of a jobless economy on the health and well-being of Americans.  Dr. Harvey Brenner of Johns Hopkins University testified on June 15th, 2011 before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee explaining that unemployment is a risk factor for elevated illness and mortality rates. In addition, the National Center for Health Statistics has found that children in poor families are four times as likely to be in bad health as wealthier families.   

Economists have also studied this issue.  A May 13th, 2012 Op-Ed in the New York Times by economists Dean Baker and Kevin Hasset entitled “The Human Disaster of Unemployment” found that children of unemployed parents make 9 percent less than children of employed parents.  The same article cites research by economists Daniel Sullivan and Till von Wachter who found that unemployed men face a 25 percent increase in the risk of dying from cancer. 

These are just a few examples of the numerous reports warning of a looming public health crisis due to unemployment.  A more thorough evaluation of this problem can be found in a recently released report entitled, “Red Tape Making Americans Sick—A New Report on the Health Impacts of High Unemployment” which we are including here for your review.   

The EPA should immediately stop pushing expensive regulations that put Americans out of work and into the doctor’s office.  We respectfully ask that your agencies adequately examine the negative health implications of unemployment into the cost/benefit analysis of the numerous regulations that are stifling job growth, before making health benefit claims to Congress and the public.   

We ask that instead of exacerbating unemployment and harming public health that you work with us in our efforts to implement policies that achieve true health benefits without destroying jobs, and indeed American coal development, in the process.  

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