04.19.2010 0

It’s Not Lucrative Being Green

By Michael Swartz

April presents both the onset of spring for most of a winter-ravaged nation and the odd calendar quirk of tax filing day being followed one week later by Earth Day. Both days affect one’s financial situation, but for different reasons.

Undoubtedly there’s an entire industry which profits from the annual taxation ritual, but the arrival of Earth Day always gives its own set of groups and industries their opportunity to seize the spotlight in an attempt to burnish their “green” bonafides – one of the most prominent and in-your-face examples being the NBC-Universal family of television networks (which includes the Weather Channel) going wall-to-wall with specifically themed episodes and constant reminders to reduce, reuse, and recycle for the good of Mother Earth. The Earth Day celebration has surely blossomed since the first one in 1970.

Despite what those on the Left seem to believe, in that forty year period we’ve come a long way in reducing the impact of pollution. Yet all this has come at great cost, and it’s a toll which is borne by those very people they were trying to help.

For example, the price at the pump or to heat your home is impacted by the $12 billion or so energy companies spend to conform with environmental regulations. On a larger scale, compliance with the byzantine layers of red tape in the environmental arena cost Americans over $220 billion annually according to a 2004 study by the Small Business Administration, and these numbers are sure to increase with legislation like the so-called “cap and trade” bill pending in Congress.

These hidden taxes add up, but rarely get mentioned when politicians tout a bill to clean the air or address global warming by adding a few thousand more pages of regulations to the volumes already in place.

At times these products of bureaucracy can produce ironic results. One would think that BP Solar of Frederick, Maryland would be well-positioned to profit from the push toward more renewable energy. Instead, the manufacturing plant and its 320 jobs are being phased out because solar panels can be made more cheaply overseas. Similarly, do-gooders promoting the creation of green jobs through building wind farms are surprised when they find a large percentage of wind turbines are produced abroad as well.

Environmental advocates may argue all the overseas manufacturing is because those markets are more mature than ours, and they have a point. Europe in particular is bedeviled by a lack of oil and natural gas resources for their population, a shortage which forced them to find other means of energy production sooner. While Europe has a reasonably decent standard of living, it’s clear that having a larger percentage of their energy consumption come from clean sources hasn’t advanced their status beyond that which we enjoy here in the United States.

For an economy to thrive while maintaining a decent quality of life there needs to be a balance. Certainly we’ve learned over the years that our planet doesn’t have infinite resources and we can’t be wasteful with that we’ve been blessed with.

But there’s a danger with shifting the balance too far the other way; it’s a cost measured in the loss of freedom. Being too restrictive can have the same harmful effects on us as unfettered polluting once did. Before the pendulum swings too far in the wrong direction, we need to consider what the Earth Day zealots are doing to our wallets before we give in to their demands.

Michael Swartz, an architect and writer who lives in rural Maryland, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

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