Decades of evidence to the contrary, the argument persists that environmental protection is some kind of a job-killer, a business repellent, a bane to development and shortcut to the economic doldrums.
Early on, it was said that tough pollution rules would drive industries out of business. Then, when the cost of cutting emissions turned out to be a few percentage points of overall operating costs, it was said that companies might stay in business but would surely relocate to other cities or states -- or nations, in this age of globalized trade and global warming -- that take a more relaxed approach to regulation.
It's an appealing simple argument, which overlooks two important complicating factors. First, environmental protection efforts create their own companies, products and jobs. Second, plenty of employers, customers and employees prefer to be in places where they can breathe the air, swim in the lakes and take a walk in a nearby woods.
These happy realities are reflected in a new "Gold and Green" report from the Institute for Southern Studies, a North Carolina research nonprofit. Drawing on public data, the institute drew up a list of 40 performance measures -- 20 that gauge economic vitality and 20 related to environmental health -- and found a strong correlation. States that take care of the environment have robust economic profiles; states that don't, don't.
Minnesota, for example, ranked No. 2 for economic vitality and No. 6 for environmental health. On the environmental side, the state got comparatively high marks on indicators for environmental spending, recycling, sprawl and pollution discharges; on the economic side, for pay, education, tax fairness and employment. (The state had an identical economic rating in the institute's 1994 study, and was one notch lower on the environmental side.)
It can be argued, and will, whether such correlations reflect an economically healthy state's greater ability to pay for environmental stewardship, or whether good stewardship attracts economic development. The study makes no effort to answer that question, but it seems reasonable to assume that the cause-and-effect relationship runs in both directions.
What isn't reasonable is to treat expenditures for environmental quality as some sort of penalty on businesses or burden on taxpayers. To the contrary, they represent investments whose measurable benefits are visible not only in statistical compilations, but all around us.
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