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Could the New EPA Regulations Spur Economic Growth?

Yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a set of long-anticipated regulations on the amount of mercury, arsenic (who knew?) and other acid gasses that coal and oil companies will be permitted to emit. Several big power plants, along with their Republican boosters, are up in arms about the ‘job-killing’ standards, though they have four years to figure out how to comply with them. The EPA concedes that power plants responsible for about 0.5 percent of the nation’s energy will likely be shuttered. But could the regulations make up for short-term job losses by producing long-term economic growth?

According to a 2005 study in Environmental Health Perspectives, the effects of mercury poisoning on fetuses' brains are not only a public healthy calamity, but a serious drain on GDP. Each year, the study estimated, as many as 637,000 babies are born with significant amounts of mercury in their bloodstream. As a result, about two-thirds of them suffer IQ loss, with the top five percent of exposed babies suffering a 1.6-3.2 point drop. Overall, the researchers estimate that the yearly loss in economic productivity due to their decreased intelligence is $8.7 billion. If you’re truly looking to scapegoat fossil fuel burners, however, only $1.3 billion is due to the mercury emitted by power plants. So where should you avoid living for the next four years? Texas, which according to a 2010 study, emits about double the mercury as the next highest offender.