Paul Krugman has a typically excellent, on target column today, on the GOP’s proposals to weaken environmental regulations as a way of creating jobs. Krugman, in rubbishing the batty proposals, correctly labels the GOP the “party of pollution.” I’ve in fact been thinking about pollution since visiting Los Angeles two months ago. It was my first time in L.A.—a cool and interesting city IMO—in over thirty years. I didn’t think much about the air quality, which didn’t seem worse than any other large American or European city I’ve visited in recent times. As practically everyone I know in California is originally from somewhere else, they couldn’t speak about the past there, but I did meet precisely two L.A. natives of my generation, who grew up there in the ’60s and ’70s, and talked about the city’s legendary smog. It was worse than bad. There were days when one could hardly go outside, weeks on end when one never saw the San Gabriel Mountains because of the smog cover. As I have learned, the worst decades were the 1940s through the ’60s (e.g. see here). In October 1954 L.A. schools were closed for the whole month and children kept home due to the health hazard presented by the smog.
The L.A. smog situation has improved dramatically over the past four decades, of course, thanks to the panoply of Clean Air Acts and other environmental laws and regulations, enacted or decreed at both the federal and state level. And the population of the L.A. metro area is rather larger now than it was then, and with that many more cars. It was likewise elsewhere. The air pollution in Paris was terrible in the 1970s; there are still bad days in the summer but the overall situation nowadays is far improved. Ankara, Turkey, where I lived for several years in the late ’60s-early ’70s, had one of the worst air pollution problems in the world at the time. The city is in a valley ringed by hills and where all buildings were heated by coal. Ankara was a truly awful place to live in the winter. In the 1980s the government made the decision to switch to natural gas. Consequence: greatly reduced pollution (and a much more liveable city). Reason: state regulation.
My question to libertarians—and to anti-government Tea Party GOP types more generally—after my L.A. visit is this: if they had their way and government got out of the business of environmental regulation—and with clean air and other such acts repealed in the interest of an unfettered free market, not to mention abolishing subsidies for mass transit—, what do they think would happen pollution-wise? If there were a return to the smog status quo ante—an inevitability, one would presume—what would they propose doing about it, if anything? Just asking.
ADDENDUM: I have learned just now (October 21) that California regulators have adopted new limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Good for you, California!