"Wrong" signImagine, if you will, that the EPA wildly underestimated the cost of some air-quality regulation. After being implemented, it turned out to cost many multiples of what the agency had projected beforehand. Furthermore, the same pattern held true for decades — over and over, EPA lowballed the cost of its air regulations.

Can you conceive the hippie punching that would go on? The skepticism and scorn with which EPA would be met when it proposed new reforms? The congressional hearings and censure that would ensue?

Now imagine the reverse situation: For decades, every time the EPA proposed a new air-quality regulation, industry-funded economists and lobbyists wildly overestimated the costs, sometimes by up to 1,000 percent.

Would subsequent industry projections be treated with scorn? Would we see any executive punching?

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

You don’t have to imagine it, it’s reality. And we know the answer: no. Industry gets it wrong over and over again, each new prediction more apocalyptic than the last, each rendered absurd by events. Yet with every new go-round, their projections are met with renewed credulity.

It’s no mystery why: money and access. The U.S. Senate is extraordinarily responsive to the concerns of the wealthy.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

That’s worth remembering as we enter a political cycle in which battles over EPA regulations are going to be fierce and ongoing. Already the cycle is repeating itself. Industry is predicting apocalypse if EPA regulates greenhouse gases. Industry-funded think tanks are feeding senators scare stories. Industry-friendly senators like Max Baucus (D-Mont.) are now out saying Congress, not EPA, should handle carbon. He’s going to vote for Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D-W.Va.) futile anti-EPA bill. (Of course, neither Baucus nor Rockefeller lifted a finger to help the climate bill when they had the chance.) [UPDATE: Baucus’s office now says he’s merely “looking at” Rockefeller’s bill and hasn’t committed one way or another. Even braver!]

Industry is always wrong about air regulations. I wish EPA chief Lisa Jackson weren’t the only member of the administration out saying so.

(For more on this subject, see my post, “Why we overestimate the costs of climate change legislation.”)