President Biden has been dispatching officials far and wide to tout his economic agenda, which has been rebranded as ‘Bidenomics.’ Ironically, the President’s own regulators might be the biggest obstacle to achieving the agenda’s stated goals of smart public investment, supporting the middle class, and helping small businesses thrive.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed stricter limits for a pollutant called fine particulate matter (PM2.5) under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). This proposal was issued despite concluding merely three years ago that current PM standards continue to be protective of public health and the environment, and since then, no new health or scientific information has emerged that suggests otherwise. While this initiative may sound arcane, it could have serious consequences for Pennsylvania’s economy.
Under the new standards, hundreds of counties across the U.S.— including dozens in Pennsylvania— would be in non-attainment of the PM2.5 NAAQS regulations. This means onerous permitting and regulatory requirements, expensive equipment upgrades and retrofits, and restricted funding for federal highway and transit projects, i.e., the smart public investments that constitute a pillar of the Biden agenda. To put numbers to it, the National Association of Manufacturers estimates that this new regulation threatens more than 23,000 jobs and $4.5 billion in economic activity in Pennsylvania. All of these consequences throw cold water on President Biden’s economic blueprint.
Safe and responsible development of Pennsylvania’s abundant natural gas resources has helped lower residential and commercial energy prices, created tens of thousands of jobs, and reduced our dependence on foreign nations for our energy needs. Meanwhile, revenues from the Act 13 impact fee have provided our state and local governments with billions of dollars for infrastructure projects, emergency services, and conservation programs, among other purposes. Last year alone, impact fee revenues totaled $279 million.
However, all of these immense benefits have been put at risk as EPA floods the zone with burdensome regulations designed to restrict natural gas production and limit consumers’ access to affordable and reliable energy. Unfortunately, low-income Pennsylvania residents are the ones who bear the brunt of these unnecessary policies.
But while consumers stand to lose out if the EPA gets its way, building and construction trades workers won’t fare much better. Earlier this month, Vice President Kamala Harris and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su were in Philadelphia to sell the President’s agenda to a crowd of union laborers. Their pitch boils down to yet another example of the gap between rhetoric and policies.
On the one hand, the administration is talking up the importance of creating good-paying union jobs, while on the other, proposing new regulations that risk leaving union steelworkers, pipefitters, boilermakers, electricians, welders, and operating engineers out of work. These are the middle-class jobs that President Biden wants to multiply, and they happen to be the backbone of our state’s energy infrastructure.
Importantly, it’s not just those directly employed by the energy sector and the trades that should be concerned. Pennsylvania’s natural gas is used in an array of manufacturing, transportation, and agricultural applications. From fertilizer for our farms, plastic for our consumer products, and fuel for our city buses, the natural resources we develop in our state power our nation’s—and our world’s—economy.
This should be a wake-up call to the EPA and the White House. While many analysts are praising the latest inflation data, some have correctly noted that prices for energy and food have started to tick back up. Efforts to restrict the supply of natural gas and oil could rekindle the inflationary pressures that eat into Americans’ paychecks.
One must ask if these economic and political consequences are worth it. Consider the tremendous progress our nation has made on air quality over the last 50 years. According to the EPA, our nation has reduced the concentration of NAAQS pollutants by 78% between 1970 and 2020, and PM2.5 levels have declined over 40 percent since 2000. Much of this improvement is thanks to technologies and efficiencies championed by our industries. Imposing crippling compliance costs on businesses for minimal environmental benefit is not a winning strategy.
Pennsylvania’s energy renaissance has unlocked billions of dollars for local projects, bolstered our state’s middle class, and improved the competitiveness of our manufacturing sector—all while reducing air pollution. This sounds exactly like what President Biden is trying to pitch to voters across the country. Unfortunately, his EPA’s regulatory assault could threaten these goals.