Figuring True Costs and Benefits

  • In 2007, the world’s largest economy, the European Union, took the unprecedented step of beginning to register, evaluate, restrict and ban approximately 180,000 chemicals and their various combinations over the next eleven years in a program called REACH. Its stated goal: protecting human health and the environment from harmful chemicals.  Unfortunately its central premise is a set-up for failure similar to our current cap and trade and the EU’s own previous cap and trade failure to achieve Kyoto goals — “industry itself is best placed to ensure that the chemicals it manufactures and puts on the market in the EU do not adversely affect human health or the environment.” If that were the case, why is there so much pollution and poisoning? Why have the government involved? Indeed, why have REACH?

What we’re proposing is to leapfrog over the EU. Let’s take REACH’s primary stated goal of protecting human and environmental health and use the new science of industrial ecology’s lifecycle cost assessments (LCA’s) to calculate the true costs and benefits of not just the 62,000 chemicals in the U.S. which have never been tested but all the other major inputs and families of products, services, land uses and production methods that also affect human health and the environment.

Working within our nation, with the international scientific community and the UN, our own scientific community would take the lead and whenever possible join with others in a one to two year campaign to calculate the true overall costs and benefits for:

  • energy production methods such as coal, oil, gas, solar, wind, nuclear
  • other basic inputs like water, steel, wood, paper, plastic and the major “building block” chemicals that go into making the major families of goods and products like dairy products, cleaning products, high tech products, synthetic fabrics, natural fabrics, etc.
  • major methods of agricultural and industrial production such as organic agriculture, chemicalized industrial agriculture,  etc.
  • major land uses such as suburban sprawl, urban infill, farm lands, forests, etc.

This full court press, aided by government, universities, business, labor, non profits and citizen groups would go forward in an open transparent, open, online/offline/all-media environment with an array of organizational and citizen-based checks, balances, rewards and penalties to ensure un-biased, uncorrupted, accurate data and data interpretation.

Known culprits that are very toxic and/or costly and have widely available alternatives would be banned like lead, dioxin and styrafoam. Other key products that we know are much more costly than their current market pricing would not have to wait for one to two years before being repriced. They would start to be taxed right away, after legislation was signed.

For example oil, coal and natural gas, both domestic and imported, would start to incur True Cost-Pollution Prevention Taxes tacked on at the point of production or entry. In addition, all imported goods would also be taxed, in accordance with the current domestic tax on carbon and how much carbon was emitted in their transport. These would increase every six months in predictable increments so businesses, organizations and government agencies could plan development and purchasing of less costly alternatives. These taxes would also reveal the huge but hidden taxation on society and the environment already being levied by coal, oil and gas.

  • Indeed, according to the International Center for Technology Assessment in 1998, when the pump price was a little over a $1 per gallon, the real price of gasoline to consumers which they were directly and indirectly paying for was between $5.60 and $15.14 per gallon, roughly 10 times higher than market price!

Whenever companies would make improvements to their products, services and methods that lowered their pollution and/or ecological footprint, their TCPP taxes or tax increases would go down or slow down (if they still were way below their true costs), making them more affordable, profitable and competitive.