Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Why Is the EPA Out Of Control? Because They Succeeded.

Ever since travel writer Anne Royall regaled early 19th century audiences with tales of environmental destruction in the Kanawha Valley salt works, there has been concern about pollution and destruction.  Ronald Lewis' Transforming the Appalachian Countryside chronicles the effect of the later 1800s timber industry on the landscape, eroded mountains, streams devoid of fish, and other disasters. In 1969 came the seminal environmental event, when pollution in Ohio's Cuyahoga River caught fire.

Modern conservatives blame Richard Nixon for the later sins of the Environmental Protection Agency that he created.  Nixon, however, knew that systematic abuse of the environment had become standard operating procedure in many industries.  This was the problem that the EPA was created to address. The Industrial Revolution brought prosperity, education, higher living standards, and longer lives.  It also set a river on fire.  Nixon created the EPA to reduce pollutants and enforce new environmental standards to encourage conservation and protect the environment. 

And what came of it?  The EPA succeeded.  According to their own statistics, carbon monoxide levels in the air dropped 83 percent from 1980 levels, from 178 million tons to 51 million. Much of the drop in carbon monoxide emissions came between 2001 and 2009, the years of the George W. Bush presidency.  Airborne lead dropped 91 percent. Aggregate emissions of six common pollutants dropped 67 percent.

Percentages and raw numbers dropped even though the US has more people, producing more goods and services, and driving more vehicles than ever. 

So the EPA actually succeeded in its most important primary task.  It brought reasonable standards into being and provided an enforcement mechanism to ensure that the air and water did not harm us.  In any group of people, accidents and even disasters will happen.  But they do not have a serious long term impact because industries generally abide by EPA standards.  

If the story ended here, we'd call it a government success story.  Most people understand, however, that it did not, that the EPA now uses flimsy evidence and bad science to justify destroying industries.  Worse, they work at the behest, as Heritage's Stephen Moore describes, of green energy moguls who have a vested interest in its work.  So-called green energy cannot replace coal, gas, or oil.  It also requires enormous amounts of resources to build and ship which limit their benefit to the environment. 

A lot of politics and money have energized the EPA to attack the cleanest coal mining and power production that has ever been seen anywhere in history.  But why do they also go after farms?  Why, for example, as Delegate Kelli Sobonya said last week, has the EPA gotten so obsessed with limiting "bovine emissions" (that's cow farts to the rest of us.)

Another aspect fuels EPA lunacy.  They succeeded and now the agency has little real justification for crusading.  Going after bogeymen, real or false, gives bureaucrats a sense of purpose.  Secular Saint Georges slaying the mean and nasty pollution dragon, saving the world from global warming, err climate change.  This all sounds like much more fun than a scaled down agency administering reasonable regulations that maintain a successful status quo.  

The EPA achieved its original goal beyond what was likely expected in 1972. It eventually hit a balance between the needs of a dynamic economy and the needs of a protected environment.  Now, to justify itself, it goes out looking for new empires to battle and conquer.

It's human nature to want to matter and have a strong sense of purpose.  But this agency level self-fulfillment should not come at the cost of real jobs, real standards of living, and real lives.


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