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Trump war on 'job-destroying' regulations could kill a lot of high-paying jobs

Donald Trump has vowed to roll back "job-destroying" environmental regulations, but in his bid to save same fossil fuel jobs, he could shut the door to other, high-paying jobs.

Trump took another step toward undoing President Barack Obama's climate change legacy when his transition team confirmed he would nominate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pruitt is a climate change denier who has worked to dismantle environmental regulations, including Obama's Clean Power Plan, which would limit greenhouse gases from power plants.


Trump's pick has environmentalists, Democrats and others worried the Trump Administration is putting in place a team prepared to erase EPA regulations for the benefit of fossil fuels industries.

But jobs involved in generating renewable power, boosting energy efficiency, or otherwise improving the environment are numerous in the United States, and they often pay relatively well.

"An individual separated from an existing job because of an environmental regulation has clearly suffered a loss. Yet, pollution abatement activities themselves require labor input. Thus, environmental regulations may also create jobs — sometimes in the same industry, or even in the same firm." -Richard Morgenstern, senior fellow, Resources for the Future

A widely cited study from Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan research group, found that $1 million in additional spending on environmental regulations across four industries actually resulted in an average net gain of 1.5 jobs. In the plastic manufacturing and petroleum refining industries, regulatory expenditures created a net 6.9 and 2.2 jobs, respectively.

"These effects can be linked to favorable factor shifts — environmental spending is more labor intensive than ordinary production," concluded Richard Morgenstern, one of the authors of the report.

For instance, It's true that new regulations have expedited the retirement of some of America's older and least efficient coal plants, but requirements to retrofit smokestacks with scrubbers also creates jobs.

And as cleaner burning natural gas overtakes coal in meeting America's energy needs — something that's happening not because of regulations, but because natural gas prices have become more competitive with coal costs — some of those coal jobs shift to other parts of the energy industry.

The benefits are not limited to the energy sector. In the construction and building materials industries, efficiency requirements create demand for new products that allow building owners to meet those higher standards. Green business formation also creates new administrative jobs.

As Morgenstern puts it in his study: "An individual separated from an existing job because of an environmental regulation has clearly suffered a loss. Yet, pollution abatement activities themselves require labor input. Thus, environmental regulations may also create jobs — sometimes in the same industry, or even in the same firm."

The United States accounts for a significant share of the "green" jobs around the world. Only China and Brazil employed more people than United States in such positions as of 2015. (Taken as a whole, the European Union also topped the States.)

Those positions tend to be attractive. A 2011 study by Brookings found that median clean economy wages were 13 percent higher than the total U.S. median, and many require "relatively little formal education."

Regulations themselves create very few layoffs, despite the political rhetoric to the contrary.

Across all industries, government regulations and intervention accounted for 1,686 layoffs out of 154,374 — or just 0.1 percent — in the first quarter of 2013, the last time the Bureau of Labor Statistics published data.