In an attempt to drum up fear, the oil industry recently released data suggesting new EPA rules meant to clean up sulfur pollution from gasoline will add as much as $0.09 per gallon to the cost of fuel for your car. The EPA however feels the cost would be closer to $0.01 per gallon since refineries are already producing gasoline with the same specs for other countries.
The EPA estimates that the change will save 2,400 people per year from dying a premature death and prevent as many as 23,000 cases of respiratory illness in children per year.
China is experiencing a similar pollution issue which has had devastating consequences. It is currently estimated that air pollution in China prematurely ends the lives of 1.2 million Chinese residents per year, costing the economy a full 5.8% of GDP.
So while the Oil industry and others may be sounding the alarms regarding the costs of fixing a problem that cuts short the lives of thousands while also making life much more difficult for tens of thousands more the reality is that doing nothing also has a cost which we are already paying.
Of course the real irony here for those who oppose the EPA change is what many of them do support. If money is the sole concern we should consider ending our patent system since it is estimated that this adds 13% to the cost of an item like a cell phone. While 22 Republican Senators voted against it, domestic violence against women leads to over 1,200 deaths per year while costing over $5 billion a year in health care costs. And when it comes to saving a collection of cells, anti-abortion advocates spare no expense even putting measures in place to increase the cost of the medical procedure to remove these unwanted cells.
The reality is that increased costs are a red herring in this debate. Most would gladly spend an extra hundred dollars a year if they knew it would give them more time to spend with elderly family members. Unfortunately we have reached a point where politics now trumps decency and compassion and we get people booing a serviceman because he is gay, cheering the death of an uninsured man, and wild applause for executing death row inmates.
While most Americans could use more dollars in their pocket, believing that a nominal amount of cash is an acceptable rationale for letting others suffer and die shows that as a country our biggest deficiency has nothing to do with money.