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Trump’s war on EPA regulations will kill jobs and a lot of people

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In his first days in office, President Donald Trump has launched a major effort to hurt job growth, stifle innovation, and make Americans sicker and less productive. How? By waging war on regulations, particularly those designed to protect the environment.

Trump ran on a pledge to kill regulations, and focused much of his wrath on EPA climate rules such as the Clean Power Plan. Upon assuming office, he put in place a “freeze” on all federal regulations; told business leaders “we’re going to be cutting regulation massively” by 75 percent or “maybe more”; and told car company executives that environmental regulations are “out of control.”

Yet, contrary to popular myth, regulations such as clean air and water standards do not have a net negative impact on job growth. Indeed, studies have found that the exact type of regulations Trump is targeting actually spur innovation and competitiveness.

Total jobs created by recent 2-term Presidents. CREDIT: Bureau of Labor Statistics via CNNMoney.

As Bureau of Labor Statistics data make clear (above chart), the recent two-term presidents who were in favor of regulation, especially environmental regulation (Obama and Clinton) created vastly more net jobs than the anti-regulation Presidents (Reagan and George W. Bush). “Businesses have added jobs at a nearly 2.5 times faster rate under Democrats than under Republicans, on average,” the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee reported in June.

The multiple economic benefits of regulations are well documented. First, EPA regulations make companies invest money to reduce some of the damage that results from their operation— such as polluting the air or water. That investment directly creates jobs, which generally cancel out any jobs lost by the cost imposed on the polluters.

Second, the reduction in harm itself boosts growth—cleaner air, for instance, means fewer sick days lost to asthma or cardiopulmonary illness. Here, for instance, are the health and mortality benefits of EPA Clean Air Act programs since 1990 aimed at reducing fine particles and ozone levels:

Health and mortality improvement from EPA clean air regulations since 1990, according to peer-reviewed research. Via EPA website (for now).

EPA particulate regulations (PM2.5) alone are now saving some 200,000 lives a year. And the benefits to the economy of these health improvements are enormous. The loss in economic output due to restricted activity, sickness, and death is enormous.

Indeed, the 2016 “Draft Report to Congress on the Benefits and Costs of Federal Regulations” by the Office of Management and Budget found that over the previous 10 years, EPA’s air regulations cost the economy $41 to $48 billion (in 2014$) while providing benefits worth $172 to $668 billion.

The same report found that Energy Department efficiency standards—which Trump has also frozen—cost the economy $7.5 to $10.6 billion but provided $19 to $32.6 billion in savings. And it found that the joint EPA and Transportation Department “rules pertaining to the control of greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources and improved vehicle fuel economy” had costs of $9.5 to $18 billion and benefits worth $35 to $64 billion.

Third, beyond those direct costs and benefits, environmental regulations spur innovation. This was the key notion that Harvard Business School professor and competitiveness guru Michael Porter first suggested in the 1990s. Subsequent reviews of the economic literature on the so-called “Porter Hypothesis” confirmed he was right. Indeed, the most recent studies confirm Porter’s broader theory that “stricter regulation enhances business performance.”

It’s worth noting that a comprehensive peer-reviewed analysis of the performance of the U.S. economy in the past six decades found that “growth in total factor productivity was much faster under Democrats (1.89 percent versus 0.84 percent for Republicans).” So if anyone’s policies are hurting productivity, it would appear to be the GOP’s.

Finally, in the coming decades, the ever-worsening reality of climate change will ensure that the primary new manufacturing jobs will be green and sustainable. In 2010, the New York Times reported “in the energy sector alone, the deployment of new technologies, like wind and solar power, has the potential to support 20 million jobs by 2030 and trillions of dollars in revenue, analysts estimate.”

Let meA bus moves past solar and wind farms in northwestern China. Beijing is using the kind of investments and regulations President Trump opposes to become the world leader in this fast-growing source of new jobs. CREDIT: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan.

The Paris climate deal—unanimously agreed upon by 190 nations in December 2015—means that the potential revenues generated for cleantech in the coming decades will be measured in the tens of trillions of dollars.

This potential is quickly becoming a reality. Other countries, especially China, have used regulations and investment to become leaders in clean energy technologies like solar and wind. And now China is using the same strategy with batteries and electric vehicles (EVs) to capture what is projected to be an EV market of more than 37 million in 2025.

But Trump intends to kill the very policies and regulations that would give the U.S. a piece of what is becoming the largest collection of new job-creating industries.

So, tragically, Trump’s war on regulations will not only kill countless U.S. jobs, it will kill a lot of people.


This post appeared originally in Think Progress on January 25, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Joe Romm is a Fellow at American Progress and is the founding editor of Climate Progress, which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called “the indispensable blog” and Time magazine named one of the 25 “Best Blogs of 2010.” In 2009, Rolling Stone put Romm #88 on its list of 100 “people who are reinventing America.” Time named him a “Hero of the Environment? and “The Web’s most influential climate-change blogger.” Romm was acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy in 1997, where he oversaw $1 billion in R&D, demonstration, and deployment of low-carbon technology. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.


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Union-Haters Want to Make Public Employees Public Enemies

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bill-londrigan1Since the November elections attacks on public employees and their unions have exploded.  Everywhere you turn you read of attacks on public sector workers, from teachers to janitors, firefighters to administrators.  Wealthy right-wing corporations and their political pawns and media enablers have tried to make public employees into public enemies.

Even in union-dense states like California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Ohio, public employees and their unions are suddenly in the crosshairs of right-wingers hell-bent on starving state budgets along with public employees and their unions.  Attacks on public employees and their unions are nothing new.  For decades public employees have been scapegoats for right-wing government haters who have accused them of doing nothing while falsely claiming that they make considerably more money than their private sector counterparts.

To fully appreciate the significance of the present attack on public employee unions it must be considered in the context of the four decade war being waged by corporate America against the American labor movement.  Over the past forty-plus years corporations and their political pawns have systematically attacked unions in each economic sector having significant density as well as political and economic power.  In the late 1960s large corporations, working in concert, decided the time was right to wage a serious, well-organized and well-financed war on the American labor movement.  The era of cooperation, conciliation and collective bargaining of the 1940s, 1950s and part of the 1960s was tossed on the proverbial ash heap of history.

We can look back and see the carnage that the corporate war on workers and their unions has wrought: a decline in wages, benefits, unions and jobs–while corporations and the wealthiest one-percent have amassed the largest concentrations of wealth in history.

It may come as a surprise to many that the current assault on public employee unions has its roots in the late 1960s when a deliberate, well-organized and financed effort by 200 of America’s largest corporations to destroy the building trades unions got underway.  With the organization of the Construction Users’ Anti-Inflation Roundtable, chaired by U.S. Steel’s Roger Blough, the largest U.S. industrial corporations dependent upon the skilled union trades organized around the desire to have their projects built and maintained without having to pay union wages and benefits.  The “Roundtable” commissioned a series of studies designed to provide cover for their efforts to undermine the building trades unions and began giving unwarranted competitive advantages to nonunion contractors.

This original “Roundtable” later merged with another corporate backed anti-labor organization known as the Labor Law Study Committee to form the Business Roundtable.  Of the many schemes hatched by the Business Roundtable was the conspiracy to award billions of dollars of industrial construction work to the largest nonunion contractors in the nation.  To make this a reality they helped establish the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) as the counterpoint to the well organized labor/management committees among the union sector of the construction industry.  The ABC became the mechanism for challenging the supremacy of union construction in every market in the nation and one of the most vehemently anti-union organizations in the nation.

In May 1979, J.C. Turner, President of the International Union of Operating Engineers, made the following observations:

“It has become apparent that a systematic and well planned campaign is being conducted to totally destroy the building trades… the current attack is the result of a decade of planning and groundwork by the Business Roundtable acting in concert with regional and local construction user associations, the contractor associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pro-business academic institutions and their allies in government… Our real enemy is clearly these large industrial concerns, organized as the Business Roundtable, who are using the contractors and their associations as soldiers in the battle.  Their purpose is to put the lid on costs by pressuring their construction contractors to slash wages… The Business Roundtable represents a threat not just to the building trades unions but to the trade union movement as a whole… If corporate America can weaken the hard-won gains of this country’s construction unions, the ultimate target will be the entire trade union movement…”

Double-breasting, where union contractors establish so-called alter ego nonunion firms to compete with and undermine their own union companies became rampant. The federal government purposefully failed to enforce federal prevailing wage and workplace safety laws.   Legal restrictions, such as repeal of common situs picketing further restricted building trades’ efforts to maintain or expand market share and membership.

While the corporate assault on the building trades unions was in full swing, it gained a powerful ally when Ronald Reagan became President on January 20, 1981.  Following his election Reagan wasted no time and quickly met with the president of the ABC and signaled his strong support for the war on the building trades unions.

Reagan’s alliance with the Business Roundtable and the ABC was certainly not his only contribution to union busting.  On August 5, 1981, in the single most infamous act of anti-unionism in memory Reagan fired striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO).

PATCO was a good target for Reagan since PATCO was a “professional” organization and was not affiliated with the AFL-CIO.  Lacking critical relationships necessary for support and solidarity in times of crisis it was unlikely that the rest of the labor movement would rise up and defend this small, professional, independent organization that may have made a grave tactical error by calling a prohibited work stoppage.  PATCO had endorsed and supported Reagan in his campaign for president, adding to its outsider identity and alienation from the rest of the labor movement.

It is universally agreed that by firing and decertifying PATCO, Reagan signaled to employers that his administration would be complicit in the corporate war on workers and their unions.  Reagan’s actions were just the opposite of what FDR had accomplished for unions when he declared, “If I went to work in a factory the first thing I’d do is join a union.”  FDR, through his words, deeds and legislation did more to spur the growth of unions in America than any single political leader in history.  Reagan’s actions accomplished just the opposite and began an era of union busting in which high paid consultants used every legal and illegal trick in the books, with the assistance and cooperation of the Reagan NLRB and DOL, to harass unions and thwart organizing at every turn.

Reagan’s action ushered in an era in which the use of permanent striker replacements became the norm, effectively nullifying labor’s most powerful weapon – the strike.  In disputes where workers engaged in work stoppages to pressure employers into negotiating reasonable terms and conditions, employers emboldened and encouraged by Reagan’s treatment of PATCO, simply hired permanent striker replacements and eliminated the persuasive impact of work stoppages as a means of pressuring employers to bargain in good faith.

The extent to which the use of permanent replacements became the favored method to undermine the effect of strikes is borne out by the fact that strikes have become virtually non-existent and are no longer considered a very useful weapon.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2009 (the latest year available) the number of work stoppages reached it lowest level since 1947, when they first began collecting data on work stoppages.

With the building trades unions on the defensive, PATCO busted and the use of permanent striker replacements widespread, the next major assault on organized labor focused on industrial unions like the United Auto Workers, United Steel Workers, Machinists, IUE, etc.  It came in the form of so-called free trade agreements like NAFTA and provided employers with another mechanism to undermine unions by placing American workers directly in competition with much lower paid workers in other countries.  With unionized workers in industries like auto, steel and aerospace making the highest wages and benefits they became primary targets of employers wanting to lower labor costs and the most vulnerable to foreign outsourcing.

Under not-so-free-trade agreements corporations can simply close down factories and move them to Mexico, India, China or wherever.  Corporations pay little or no tariffs on the products they export back to the U.S.  On top of that they can get tax breaks for moving good-paying union jobs to foreign countries.  What a great deal!  Also, foreign corporations that agree to operate non-union factories in America, like large auto assembly plants, receive huge tax breaks, incentives and other competitive advantages over the unionized domestic producers and you get the same result–workers pitted against each other between unionized and non-union employers.

Not-so-free-trade-agreements, which facilitate the movement of factories to foreign countries, are an extension of the old “runaway shop” used by corporations for more than a century to run away from union shops in the heavy unionized industrial northeast and Midwest.  Prior to the not-so-free-trade agreement era corporations ran away to southern states where adherence to Jim Crow, right-to-work-for-less and other traditions kept unions from expanding and gaining political and economic power.

Not-so-free-trade can be thought of as the runaway shop on steroids and has become an effective and widespread tool for getting rid of American unions and cowing those that remain.  Corporations don’t really have to get their hands dirty either.  They really don’t have to hire high priced union busting attorneys.  They really don’t have to deal with the NLRB or DOL.  All they have to do is close the plant and move it to a foreign country where unions are weak, compliant or nonexistent and cooperative governments keep workers in line and union power to a minimum.  Not-so-free-trade agreements have wiped out millions of good-paying American manufacturing jobs–a disproportionate number of these union jobs.

Now it is the public sector unions that are in the crosshairs of anti-union politicians and their corporate bosses.  Given the history of anti-unionism in America over the past forty years it should come as no surprise they are now the target of large scale coordinated union busting.  Just as the building trades and industrial unions have been targeted for destruction, public employees are now facing a gauntlet of anti-unionism aimed squarely at them.  With more public sector employees belonging to unions than those in the private sector (7.9 million v. 7.4 million) and union membership rates for public sector workers substantially higher than the rate for private industry workers (37.4% v. 7.2%) it should come as no surprise that public sector unions are now the primary targets in the corporate war on workers and their unions.

The preceding condensed version of the last forty years of the corporate war on America’s workers and their unions brings to mind one of the most moving and incisive quotations over the consequences of being divided against a common enemy.  It is from Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892-1984) referring to the rise of Nazi power in Germany and the complicity of those who failed to act to prevent the spread of the Nazi plague:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me –
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Using Pastor Niemoller’s words as a template and with profound respect, I would submit the following requiem for American workers for their complicity in or ignorance of the corporate war on America’s workers and their unions:

Requiem for The American Worker First they attacked the building trades unions,
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a member of the building trades;

Then they fired the air traffic controllers,
and I did not speak out –
because I was not an air traffic controller;

Then they shipped millions of union manufacturing jobs overseas,
and I did not speak out –
because I did not work in a union shop;

Then they vilified and attacked public sector unions,
and I did not speak out –
because I was not a member of a public employee union;

Then I needed a union –
and there were none left to speak out for me.

*This post originally appeared in Union Review on January 26, 2010.

About the Author: Bill Londrigan is President of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.

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