It must take a thick skin and a lot of conviction to work at the Environmental Protection Agency these days. Although created by a Republican administration in 1970, and charged with oversight of widely popular clean air and water laws, the EPA is condemned by critics in Congress as an anti-business job-killer.
So it’s more than a little newsworthy when a captain of American industry endorses the EPA’s regulatory mission. It’s even more newsworthy when he does so at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative bastion noted for its criticism of environmental regulation.
Speaking before AEI on Monday, John Rowe, Chairman and CEO of Exelon, urged Congress to let EPA continue its enforcement of the Clean Air Act—a law that “has had strong bipartisan support for the past 40 years.”
Contrary to critics who imply that the agency has taken a radical left turn, “The rules EPA is proposing are neither new, nor unexpected,” he said. “In some cases, EPA has been working on the rules for ten years or more. EPA is merely enforcing the law. A law that was updated in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way in 1990 – with 93% of the House voting for it and 89% of the Senate.”
The effect of EPA’s regulations, he added, will mainly be to force early retirement of very old coal plants—typically small, inefficient and dirty units the country will not miss.
As he reminded his audience, the free market shouldn’t be an excuse to force society to bear the costs of bad health and environmental damage caused by dirty generation plants.
“You cannot argue that sulfur dioxide, particulates, mercury, arsenic, lead, hydrochloric acid and other acid gases, dioxins and the other toxins are not harmful to human health,” he declared, pointing to many of the noxious emissions of older coal plants.
Fortunately, Rowe is not a voice in the wilderness. In December, the heads of eight major energy companies—including Peter Darbee, Chairman, President and CEO of PG&E Corporation—signed a letter to the Wall Street Journal defending the EPA’s enforcement of clean air regulations.
Perhaps their most important point–confirmed recently by independent academic studies–was that a clean environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand.
“Contrary to the claims that the EPA’s agenda will have negative economic consequences,” they declared, “our companies’ experience complying with air quality regulations demonstrates that regulations can yield important economic benefits, including job creation, while maintaining reliability.”