There was a time in the not too distant past that the so-called "smokestack industries" belched pollutants into the air without much regard to the harmful effects on humans and the environment. Even so, jobs were plentiful, and people learned to live with the pollution in industrial areas. It's not a vote for pollution. It's just the way it was.

However, the first stirrings of environmental concern began in the 1960s and led to the Clean Air Act in the 1970s. Much in the way of cleaning up the environment has been accomplished since then, as those of you who lived in a heavy industrial area before the 1970s know. The vastly improved air that we breathe today has not come without a cost though.

The high cost of meeting increasingly stringent environmental regulations is forcing companies across the nation to close their doors, eliminating thousands of jobs and undermining the U.S. industrial base. Industry officials continually have requested that some common sense be used in setting environmental standards; that is, that further regulations put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in implementing the amendments to the 1990 Clean Air Act be cost effective and technologically sound.

The Center for the Study of American Business estimates the costs of federal regulatory programs at more than $668 billion annually. The U.S. steel industry-a major part of the American manufacturing sector-shares in that burden. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), because environmental, health, and safety regulations represent a significant cost to the steel industry ($10-20 per ton, or $1-2 billion per year, to meet environmental requirements alone), it is essential that regulatory activities and resources be directed toward those problems with the greatest risks, and that the costs of those regulations be fully understood and assessed in the context of the benefits derived. A policy statement of AISI on behalf of its U.S. producer members requests that "any proposed tightening of ambient air standards for particulate matter or ozone should be based on sound, peer-reviewed scientific studies and should include an assessment of risk reductions to be achieved and the relative costs and benefits of proposed actions."

Unmoved by industry concerns, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, recently upheld the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set Clean Air Act standards without weighing the financial cost of the rules against health benefits. The decision was hailed as a solid endorsement of EPA's efforts to protect the health of millions of Americans from the dangers of air pollution. Where is the common sense? Great strides have been made to reduce air pollution since the 1970s. The gains are noticeable because there was a lot of pollution to work with. But the cost of eliminating each additional part per million of pollutant will place a tremendous burden on industry.

AISI's position is that permitting, monitoring, reporting, record-keeping requirements and enforcement policies should not become more burdensome so as to stifle industrial growth or modernization or to impose costs disproportionate to any reasonable benefits. The "clean-at-any-cost" mentality will no doubt force more industries to close their doors, eliminating more manufacturing jobs.