By the early 1970’s, the Brown Pelican was on the ropes. Decades of DDT effluence discharged into the nation’s waters had poisoned that aquatic bird’s eggs and left us only a few thousand of them diving into the water, sustaining ecosystems and capturing the imagination of beach-goers. It took President Nixon’s Clean Water Act to nurse this friendly, interesting bird back to vitality.
That is to say, government regulation saved a key player in our state’s coastal ambiance. One of the distinguishing pleasures of our beaches is to be in the company of wildlife like the Pelican. It is not a stretch to say that our tourism industry would be weaker without EPA intervention. Regulation has costs, but so does deregulation. And these costs go beyond natural aesthetics.
Rolling back environmental protections exacts costs in at least two more ways. First, there are mitigation costs. Every time an ecological disaster occurs, someone must pay to repair our environment. The resources that resources that must be devoted to mitigation are then unavailable for investment or consumption. This depresses economic growth.
Labor supply also suffers. People who breathe unclean air or drink polluted water get sick more. As a result, they miss more days of work–directly reducing the goods and services we produce. Sick workers are also less productive. So they produce less per hour worked, further suppressing economic growth and stunting wages. Both of these trends cost us tax revenue that could be spent on pro-growth public investment.
The state GOP passionately insists that environmental regulation is a “job-killer.” It is possible to go too far; California’s zeal to regulate has probably sent some industries to Arizona or Texas. But California itself illustrates that this issue is more complex than the John Lockers believe. Despite sometimes-crushing regulation, the Golden State boasts world-class clusters of technological, pharmaceutical and media talent. I’d rather our state excel in those industries than subsist on a handful of low-wage, twentieth-century jobs.
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt–who as President enacted some of the nation’s first environmental laws–stormed San Juan Hill on the slogan “Remember the Maine!” The next time some lobbyist from the NC Chamber calls for yet more deregulation, thoughtful pro-growth citizens would be well served to Remember the Pelican.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.