President Barack Obama’s aggressive Environmental Protection Agency has imposed hundreds of thousands of pages of regulation since 2009, sticking American industries with billions of dollars in compliance costs. The regulations both make it harder for American companies to compete on a global scale and do away with thousands of middle-class jobs every year. But the White House insists that the benefit to the environment outweighs negative consequences stemming from the regulations.
There’s just one problem for America’s environmental regulators: No amount of job-killing environmental regulation is going to stop the wind from blowing.
The EPA and government officials are quick to point out air-quality improvements recorded in recent years in regions of the United States with historic ties to big industry. But fans of heavy-handed regulation usually fail to mention that the lower levels of pollution often correlate directly to lower levels of production.
Declining American industrial production, however, doesn’t indicate that global demand for manufactured goods is down. Indeed, industries that can no longer operate with an acceptable profit margin in the United States because of regulatory burdens simply move to places with fewer regulatory headaches.
One good example of a prime destination for regulation-weary industries is China.
A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that decreased manufacturing in the United States in recent years has led to cleaner air in the Nation’s Eastern regions. Meanwhile, heavily polluted air from China, a nation enjoying an ill-regulated manufacturing boom, is making its way to the West Coast of the United States.
“We’ve outsourced our manufacturing and much of our pollution, but some of it is blowing back across the Pacific to haunt us,” said Steve Davis, a University of California at Irvine scientist who co-authored the study. “Given the complaints about how Chinese pollution is corrupting other countries’ air, this paper shows that there may be plenty of blame to go around.”
Steel provides a good example of Chinese growth in an industry once dominated by the U.S., and the environmental consequence that has accompanied the growth.
China’s production of steel has quadrupled in the last decade, making it by far the world’s largest source of steel. It now produces more than the United States, Russia and Japan combined. And, while China produces one-third of the world’s steel, it is responsible for half of the world’s carbon dioxide from steelmaking, making it a leading contributor to global warming.
Propelled by its rapid industrial expansion and low environmental standards, China also has become one of the world’s biggest polluters. It now produces more sulfur dioxide than any other country, and has taken the lead in generating carbon dioxide as well.
The resulting pollution is taking a heavy toll within China. It causes as many as 750,000 premature deaths in China each year, according to the World Bank, and 99 percent of the 540 million Chinese who live in urban areas breathe unsafe air. But it also raises global threats. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on some days, one-fourth of the particulate matter (dust and soot) in Los Angeles comes from China.
Where sensible regulation in the United States could have protected the environment and American jobs, burdensome regulations kill jobs and prop up industry in countries where environmental regulation is a non-issue. Worse yet, American consumers then reward the world’s biggest polluters by buying their goods.
“When you buy a product at Wal-Mart,” Davis said, “it has to be manufactured somewhere. The product doesn’t contain the pollution, but creating it caused the pollution.”