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Cost-Benefit Of Prevention

January 9, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 2

Dec. 5, 2011, page 35: The dehydro form of pinene was shown; one of the double-bonded isomers, α-pinene, is shown here.

In the editorial “The Cost Of Prevention,” Rudy Baum states that the “Chicago River is now a pleasant body of water … because of regulations … administered by EPA. That’s the same EPA that Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said should be renamed the ‘Job-Killing Organization of America’ ” (C&EN, Nov. 14, 2011, page 3).

Baum rightly indicates that “Regulations are like vaccines. They impose a cost, sometimes a substantial one.” But he clearly supports all of EPA’s current regulatory efforts. His bias is obvious and would lead one to believe that all environmental regulations have a favorable cost-benefit ratio, so why should there be any constraints at all? Why not, for example, shut down all coal-fired plants in the U.S. ASAP?

I would like to point out that at this unique point in time, the Federal Reserve considers our economy so fragile that extraordinary monetary-policy actions are appropriate on an ongoing basis to prevent another recession, including the expansion by several trillion dollars of the Federal Reserve balance sheet. As an ACS member, I would much rather see C&EN foster informed debate about the true costs versus the benefits of the current raft of environmental regulatory proposals under consideration, instead of printing biased editorials. This might better serve ACS members, particularly those employed in the U.S. chemical industry. Is it possible, within the realm of the imagination, that additional financially burdensome regulations at this time will make the Fed’s job more difficult?

By David Chapman
Ellicott City, MD

Concerning “The Cost Of Prevention,” the cleanup of the Chicago River DID kill jobs—jobs that could be carried out economically only if the costs of minimizing effluents weren’t added to the inherent costs of manufacturing or processing. The smoke-belching, reeking industries associated with Chicago a century ago have now migrated elsewhere: Butchering is now done in Iowa and Nebraska, while the steel industry is so heavily restructured as to be unrecognizable. The only place I have personally seen a crush of industrial capacity the likes of which South Chicago had a century ago is along the road from Hanoi to Haiphong in Vietnam (I believe that untreated effluent from Hanoi is dumped, untreated, into the Day River).

The environmental fight, along with many other red/blue, right/left issues might be mitigated if both sides of the argument would admit that the other is accurately describing one aspect of the problem. Taxing and regulating are ways for the common good to override narrowly construed or individual optimization; those costs influence what economic activity can sustainably occur.

Indeed, what is sustainable from an environmental standpoint and what is sustainable from a full-employment standpoint may be at odds. The cost of high-rise construction is less in the short run if the entropy inherent in side products, scrap, and CO2 is simply dumped, not remediated. Don’t Tread On Me has been in tension with e Pluribus Unum throughout our history.

By Alexander Scheeline
Urbana, IL

Reading Baum’s editorial about the “good” and “bad” EPA made my blood boil. He totally misses the point. Removing 90% of the Chicago River pollution is commendable. Removing another 90% of the remaining 10% pollution is prudent, since it has by now removed 99% of the original sewage (the good EPA). But to continue to demand another 90% removal of the remaining 1% in subsequent years becomes very expensive, if not almost impossible, and thus becomes absurd. This is what has been referred to as the bad EPA.

This excessive and unreasonable approach of overregulation of water, air, and land pollution continues unabated. For example, enforcement of the Clean Water Act has become often unreasonably rigid, and enforcement sometimes borders on the insane.

To make my point clear: A friend’s large pleasure craft was taking in water, began to list, and was about to sink. He called the Coast Guard for help. When they arrived in force, they informed him that they were foremost the enforcers of EPA’s clean water rules. Consequently, if he were to pump out the water containing a slight oil sheen, they would immediately imprison him and fine him $35,000 for willfully discharging contaminated water into a public waterway. If, however, the million dollar boat were to sink, the same oil sheen flowing into the lake would NOT be considered a willful discharge and thus he would NOT be arrested and fined. That is an actual example of the stupidity of Obama’s bad EPA.

By Armin Brahm
Lake Charles, LA



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