'Green' policies can help economy, study finds

October 12, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

Countering business complaints that environmental protection costs jobs, a new study finds that the "greenest" states also have the best business climate, and it ranks Maryland highly on both counts.

The Institute for Southern Studies, a nonprofit research organization in Durham, N.C., said in a study released today that Maryland has the 12th healthiest environment of the 50 states, and the 10th strongest economy.

"The states that do the most to protect their natural resources also wind up with the strongest economies and best jobs for their citizens," concluded Robert Hall, the institute's research director and the report's author.

The study, titled "Gold & Green," uses 40 indicators to evaluate each state's economy and environment. The 20 economic ratings include pay, job growth, business start-ups and workplace injuries. The environmental score card includes smog, toxic waste generation, recycling, driving and state environmental programs.

The top three states for both economic and environmental health were Hawaii, Vermont and New Hampshire, while Louisiana ranked dead last on both scores. Maryland outshone neighboring states on environmental quality, while Delaware was the only state in the region with a better-rated economy.

Maryland ranked 46th on air quality, reflecting its severe summertime smog, but scored high for having relatively low energy consumption and stronger environmental policies than most other states.

Political candidates in Maryland and elsewhere have pledged lately to help business by undoing "excessive regulations." But Mr. Hall said his study indicates that relaxing environmental standards would backfire, degrading air and water while failing to draw or keep industries.

"Places like Ohio and Indiana that have sort of relaxed standards to hold on to their industries are paying the price," he said. Many Southern states already have lower environmental standards than the rest of the nation, he added, yet many of their industries have lower paying and less desirable jobs.

The high grades given Maryland were disputed by a business leader, who maintains that the state's environmental regulations are inhibiting economic growth "to a degree."

"I'm not surprised at all that we would do well in . . . environmental quality," said Champe McCullough, president of the state Chamber of Commerce. "That's one of Maryland's strengths." But he did question the state's economic ranking, saying that job growth has been "poor" since the late 1980s.

The study says that Maryland ranked 15th among states in job growth, as employment grew 16.3 percent from 1985 through 1993. But Mr. McCullough pointed out that while the state's job rolls were rapidly increasing in the mid-1980s, employment has grown less than 1 percent since 1987. Shrinking defense spending has cost Maryland many manufacturing jobs, he said.

Stephen M. Meyer, professor of political science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the new study confirms his own findings, that environmental protection and a state's economic growth often "go hand in hand."

The idea that strict regulation drives companies away to more lenient states is "a myth," Dr. Meyer said.

"In fact, there's some evidence it actually attracts businesses," he said, noting that executives and high-salaried workers usually prefer to locate in states where they can enjoy unspoiled natural resources.

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