Fox Boils Over

Fox News has been attacking Senator Barbara Boxer non-stop for saying that a provision delaying an EPA rule will “kill 8,100 more people than otherwise would have been killed from pollution.” On Fox Business, radio host Michael Reagan suggested Boxer's comments were over the top before calling Boxer a “job killer in America” and saying “every time she votes, it kills jobs.”

No one on Fox found time to note the basis for Boxer's reference to 8,100 lives. Fox's Steve Doocy said, “I don't know where she comes up with that” number and Sean Hannity incorrectly suggested Boxer was referring to Keystone XL on his radio show. A minimal amount of research would reveal that Boxer was referring to an EPA rule that regulates hazardous air pollution, including known carcinogens, from industrial boilers under the Clean Air Act, which the EPA estimates would prevent as many as 8,100 premature deaths a year, among other health benefits.

Conservative media are once again ignoring these benefits of EPA's pollution regulations, and exaggerating the costs to industry for complying with the rule. Fox & Friends' Brian Kilmeade said on that the boiler rule would be “another economy killer” and Michael Reagan said that the rule would “kill 230,000 jobs,” apparently referencing an industry-funded study. That study, prepared for the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners (CIBO) in 2010, estimated that the Boiler MACT (Maximum Available Control Technology) rule would put anywhere from 152,553 to 798,250 jobs “at risk.” However, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concluded that “little credence can be placed” in the study. One of the several problems with the study is that it failed to estimate jobs that would be created by the regulation -- for instance, the boiler rule benefits companies that build boilers. Fox regularly cites industry-funded estimates of the jobs impact of EPA rules, even though retrospective studies find them to be unreliable.

And while Fox is using this as another chance to suggest the EPA is "out of control," this rule is long overdue. As Duke University's Bill Chameides explained, it has been in the making for over a decade and is being completed now because courts rejected the Bush administration's version of the rule:

To follow the history of the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time boiler MACT rule, you have to go all the way back to 2000 when the Environmental Protection Agency first adopted standards and emission guidelines for commercial and industrial boilers, process heaters, incinerators and the like, requiring the use of maximum achievable control technology to control emissions, as directed by the Clean Air Act of 1990.

This rule was promptly challenged in 2001 for not including the full list of toxic emissions that should have been covered. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered EPA to modify the rule, but the rule was also allowed to stand in the interim. In 2005 EPA reissued the rule, but in 2007 that rule was vacated by the DC Court and EPA was sent back to the drawing board. (More details here [pdf].)

In April 2010 EPA proposed new draft rules. which received such a hue and cry from industry that EPA decided to delay finalizing the rule and extended the public comment period. Some 4,800 comments later EPA issued its “final rule” on February 23, 2011 -- but it had changed so significantly from its first iteration that the agency immediately acknowledged it would seek yet more review and “reconsider” the final [sic] rule.

That reconsideration period ended on December 2nd when EPA issued a new version of its final rule, one that was less stringent than the previous final rule and would require little action beyond routine maintenance for more than 99 percent of boilers. And yet even this was met with strong opposition and claims that the new rules would lead to job losses and “undermine competitiveness” -- claims that have been challenged by others.

Greenwire reported that latest version of the rule means only 1 percent of all boilers will need to take new steps to limit emissions:

More than 99 percent of the 1.5 million boilers in the United States are small enough or clean enough that they would be completely exempt or would only need annual tune-ups to comply, EPA said. Today's proposed revisions would require tune-ups every two years rather than annually as this spring's final rules would have required.

And because about 88 percent of the highest-emitting 14,000 boilers already meet the proposed limits, only about 1 percent of all U.S. boilers would need to add new pollution controls or take other steps to cut their emissions, EPA said.

According to the Wall Street Journal the final rule “won cautious praise from several industry groups.” Still, the House attached a provision blocking the rule to its payroll tax bill. According to Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats, “the House has voted 191 times this year to weaken environmental protections, averaging ”more than one anti-environmental vote for every day the House was in session." The Clean Air Act is under siege, but according Fox personalities, they're the real victims.