Cheaper to Pollute in China than in the United States? Yes, But...

by Ben Somberg

September 01, 2009

A recent article on Forbes.com, "China: Where Poisoning People Is Almost Free," gave great examples of just how cheap it often is to pollute in China. And it pointed to potential consequences:

While companies can get away with pollution atrocities for years, the Chinese government, in the long run, may have to pay a high price for allowing it: political instability triggered by the unanswered grievances of pollution victims.

Manufacturers, of course, can and have moved overseas to countries -- China being a major destination -- with light pollution controls.

So if poisoning people in China is 'almost free,' what about here? There are costs to upgrading plant technologies to meet regulations, and costs for the pollution permits themselves, for example. And it's a good thing we have the environmental laws and regulations we do.

But what if you're a non-point source of pollution? Say, the industrial hog farm in North Carolina that spreads manure on the land, only to have it run-off during a storm and poison local streams with antibiotics, excess nutrients, and biological contaminants like E.coli. Non-point source pollution falls outside of the Clean Water Act's permit requirements and enforcement mechanisms. So, no permit required. Although the CWA authorizes voluntary state planning and management programs to deal with nonpoint source pollution, it is essentially unregulated by the CWA . Efforts to strengthen nonpoint source pollution controls through the Total Daily Maximum Load levels have been aggressively resisted, if not shut down completely, by affected industries. Consequently, non-point source pollution has become the dominant cause of water pollution today.

So for many companies in the United States, poisoning the environment can be almost free too. Our waters, like the Chesapeake Bay, pay the price.

Tagged as: cost, pollution
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