When EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced new environmental rules yesterday to cut carbon pollution, she took a brief stroll down memory lane.
"In the '60s, when smog choked our cities, critics cried wolf and said EPA action would put the brakes on auto production, and they were wrong. Instead, our air got cleaner and our kids got healthier, and we sold more cars. Thank you to the folks at EPA. "In the 1990s, critics cried wolf and said fighting acid rain would make electricity go up and our lights go out. They said industry would, and I quote, 'die a quiet death.' Well, they were wrong again. Industry is alive and well. Our lights are still on, and we have dramatically reduced acid rain. So time after time, when science pointed to health risks, special interests cried wolf to protect their own agenda, not the agenda of the American people. And time after time, we followed the science, we protected the American people and the doomsday predictions never came true."
If you missed last night's show
, it's amazing to see the cyclical nature of the complaints: every time policymakers rely on the Clean Air Act to protect the environment and public health, industries and conservatives have issued dire warnings, warning of economic doom and gloom.
In the 1970s, when the Clean Air Act was expanded to address air pollution choking U.S. cities, a Ford executive told Congress the safeguards would "prevent the continued production of automobiles in the United States." The same year, the American Automobile Manufacturers Association told the Senate the policy would simply end the production of cars in the United States. Manufacturers "would be forced to shut down," the organization argued.
None of the predictions came true.
In the 1980s, with policymakers facing a hole in the ozone layer and acid rain, the Clean Air Act was once again the tool of choice. And again, opponents of environmental safeguards told Americans that the protections would crush the economy. None of this happened, either.
As Rachel explained, "In 1963, and then in 1967 and in 1970 and 1972 and 1977 up through 1990, that debate and beyond, we have over and over and over again made progress on these issues. We've had bipartisan votes and bipartisan support for attacking pollution as we have run into pollution problems and the science has been conclusive about how to fix those problems. And, yes, there have been little Chicken Littles all along the way saying it would be the end of the world if we tried to stop this current round of pollution. But the Chicken Littles have been wrong all along."
All of which brings us to today.
Three years ago, the operators of one of the nation's dirtiest coal-fired power plants warned of "immediate and devastating" consequences from the Obama administration's push to clean up pollution from coal. Faced with cutting sulfur dioxide pollution blowing into downwind states by 80 percent in less than a year, lawyers for EME Homer City Generation L.P. sued the Environmental Protection Agency to block the rule, saying it would cause it grave harm and bring a painful spike in electricity bills. None of those dire predictions came to pass.
No, of course not.
In the world of finance, there's a phrase you've probably seen in commercials: “Past performance is not an indicator of future success." The point is that an investment may have fared well in the recent past, but that doesn't guarantee it'll do well going forward. And when it comes to environmental policy, we can't be absolutely certain that just because polluters and conservatives have been wrong every single time there's been a debate about the Clean Air, they'll necessarily be wrong again in response to the Obama administration's new policy.
But I'd like to think the right's uninterrupted streak of failed predictions in this area would have at least some bearing on critics' credibility.