I was flying across the country today and noticed this poster in Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. It’s brought to you by the folks at the Environmental Protection Agency, highlighting another service they do other than enforce the Clean Air and Water Acts and quietly accept criticism from the Tea Party.
You may have heard that after the right-wing movement nearly drove the debt debate off a cliff, they’d like to go after environmental agencies. Specifically, the EPA and Department of the Interior, which, according to some of their members and presidential candidates – including Michele Bachmann – enforce regulations that kill jobs and stall growth.
It’s a valid argument to have over what impact a specific policies will have. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office scores all legislation in Congress to measure its short- and long-term costs. But there are other impacts of legislation that are harder to measure. President Obama’s health care law, for instance, can be quantified in how much money it will cost or save. But the societal value of what health care is worth, or rather, how many lives it is worth saving, is a much more nebulous debate that can’t be argued with a balance sheet.
If you look at an agency like EPA, one can argue that some of the agency’s policies do stymie economic growth. Reigning in the reckless components of the oil industry will cost jobs, as will halting mountaintop removal projects to harvest coal. But if the effect is more lives saved, more communities secure and more wild ecosystems protected, then maybe we, as a society, should agree to bear those costs. In effect, apologize to the people who would lose their jobs and the industries that would shrink, and then pursue the greater common good.
Which brings us back to EPA’s radon monitoring programs – which, by the way, you can read about here. Most folks don’t know what radon is, or how it can make you very sick. Suffice to say it causes 20,000 deaths each year and is the second leading cause of lung cancer (the first, of course, is smoking). Speaking green, it also costs over $2 billion each year in direct and indirect health care costs.
There’s probably not much money to be made testing for radon, so it’s unlikely that, in EPA’s absence, a private company would take over the advocacy campaign to alert you of a dangerous element. Some things simply are the role of government, and making sure you know about radon seems to be one.