"This administration seems to be taking steps that appear to be methodically and deliberately sabotaging certain parts of our nation's economy."
Who would accuse President Obama's top bureaucrats of intentionally damaging the industrial strength of America? Quite a few people, if one can judge by the angry citizen grumbles roiling through today's blogs and social media. But the quote above came from none other than Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, on the Senate floor last week.
The senator was concerned by the thousands of pages of new rules that the Environmental Protection Agency has dumped on economic sectors that Obama simply doesn't like -- coal, for example. Worse, proposed blanket rules would expand federal authority over the largest possible area, such as storm water disposal rules for existing buildings, and Clean Water Act permits for ditches on family farms.
Barrasso said, "This administration has finalized 1,330 rules that have been deemed what's called 'economically significant' " -- those with an annual impact on the economy of $100 million or more -- "and they've proposed over 1,300 additional economically significant rules."
We've seen thousands of American jobs lost already, and others are on the chopping block now, just because of these rules. The intent appears to have been to destroy the coal industry. Barrasso said, "Fifty-seven coal-fired power plants have already announced their closure because of the 'cumulative effect' of these rules on just this one industry."
The Obama administration has a history of understating the costs of its rules and overstating the benefits. The horrifying costs can be verified in real dollars, but the invented benefits are either guesses or unknown. How can the administration get away with that?
Barrasso, who is also an orthopedic physician, said, "The administration claims the benefits are in so-called 'saved future health care costs.' " The EPA's claim is that lower carbon dioxide, or mercury, or sulfur dioxide from plants and factories will magically reduce particulate matter or dust at the same time. "They then make the inaccurate conclusion that reductions in the dust will somehow yield billions of dollars in health benefits because folks will have healthier lungs and visit the doctor fewer times," Barrasso continued.
The EPA is benefiting from the legacy of Richard L. Revesz, who now serves as dean of the New York University School of Law and who co-founded the Institute for Policy Integrity. During the Clinton administration, Revesz served on an EPA advisory panel charged with reforming how the agency conducted its cost-benefit analyses. Late last month he and his IPI commented on the EPA's "Forthcoming Revisions to the Stormwater Program."
Revesz is famous for popularizing the use of cost-benefit analysis not only to analyze costs and benefits, but also to promote an agenda. He once said that "advocacy groups can use cost-benefit analysis as a powerful tool to promote their causes." He advised the agency to "refine" its storm water cost-benefit analysis by "considering additional categories of benefits, incorporating non-use values such as existence value."
"Existence value" appears to mean whatever one wants it to mean, thus giving advocates justification for monetizing any cause at all up to any dollar amount they want to claim. Another piece of advice from Revesz: "Design the rule in a manner that facilitates watershed-based permitting," which could be interpreted as "grab the greatest amount of land possible when granting a stormwater permit and make the permittee pay for what you took."
Evidently assuming that Big Green advocacy groups would mobilize their foundation-funded campaigners to support EPA, Revesz advised, "Structure the rule to maximize citizen involvement in the permitting, monitoring, and enforcement process." In real life, this translates to rigging the rules so that Big Green advocates can cram meetings, glut comment responses, and control private property.
Barrasso concluded, "What we know now is that the EPA is cooking the books." You have to hand it to Revesz -- it's easy to win the game of cost-benefit analysis when you can just make up the numbers.
Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.