One of the most-debated points in this year’s election campaigns in northeast Minnesota is whether environmental regulation creates jobs.
Certainly environmental regulations create jobs in the public sector. Many families in this region are supported by employment at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Natural Resources, and even county land departments.
But regulations have created many jobs in the private sector as well.
The state of Minnesota requires curbside recycling in cities such as Duluth. That means two sets of trucks and drivers are out on my street every “garbage day,” one to pick up the garbage and another to pick up the recycling. Without that state requirement, that recycling truck driver might not have a job.
At engineering firms across the region, dozens of people are helping prepare an environmental impact statement for the proposed Polymet mine, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. These folks are earning good salaries trying to make that project environmentally friendly.
Along Duluth’s Lakewalk, five huge sewage overflow tanks have been built over the last decade. The only reason these tanks were built was because federal regulations to protect Lake Superior required that the City of Duluth build these tanks. Raw sewage was pouring into the lake and the city was required by law to stop it. Each tank took about a year to complete, employing excavators to dig the holes, masonry workers to build the tanks, and landscape architects to design the new greenspace above the tanks.
These are just a few examples of real jobs in the private sector created by environmental regulation. These regulations started with an important idea: keep our waters and lands clean. But they have resulted in well-paying jobs for the region.
Looking forward, would enforcing new clean air standards on local power plants mean a loss of plant jobs, or would it mean more work for clean air technicians? Do sustainable forestry standards put loggers out of business, or do they generate more demand for our products? There isn’t a simple answer. In the long run, however, our economy and our environment are both supported by the sustainable development to which environmental regulation will help lead us.