Opinion

Four Ways the EPA Has Gone Astray In Its 40 Years

The Environmental Protection Agency turns 40 this week, marking four decades in pursuit of a simple goal: ensure the safety of our land, water, and air. After the Cuyahoga River caught fire near Cleveland in 1969, Americans recognized steps needed to be taken to get pollution under control. Unfortunately, the resulting regulatory body has been hijacked by overzealous environmental activist. These federal regulators are now neglecting economic realities in blind pursuit of a green agenda.

Though most Americans support the notion of going “green,” they are not willing to needlessly sacrifice our economic welfare to do so. Yet, EPA has trespassed against these concerns time and time again. Here are four examples of the ways in which EPA has ventured far beyond its intended scope and done so at great expense to U.S. taxpayers:

1. Out of Control Growth: In the last 35 years, pages in the federal regulatory code dedicated to EPA regulations have increased twenty-five fold. That is five times more growth than even the tax code has seen in the same time period. And the agency only expects to extend its reach further. 

At the end of last year, it was developing 331 new regulations. To afford all these ambitious regulations, the EPA must have access to more taxpayer dollars. In 2009, it asked for $7.1 billion, but will require over $10 billion for operations next year. This marks unprecedented growth, and without you knowing it, it is having a grave impact on your life.

2. Overt Political Activism: Looming EPA regulations intend to cap carbon emissions throughout the country after the failure of last year’s cap-and-trade bill. Unprepared states have been threatened that if they cannot develop adequate measures to issue hundreds of permits for facilities emitting CO2, their air pollution programs will be federalized.

 Texas and Florida are already experiencing this hostile takeover. Beyond the considerable costs this particular ambitious program will place on taxpayers, it is having an even more severe effect on businesses.

3. Ambitious Regulatory Overreach: In order for facilities to be constructed or expanded under EPA’s intended regulations, companies must go through a grueling, drawn out, and vague permitting process which could take as much as two years. Businesses will have to convince federal regulators that they are using loosely defined ‘best available technologies’ for emissions reductions, leaving the progress up to the discretion of a politically motivated bureaucrat. 

Additional costs could grow exponentially when permitting agents arbitrarily decide a certain project should use expensive solar or wind technologies as opposed to traditional sources utilized by surrounding competitors.

The federal takeover will also cause local projects to acquiesce to the burdens of other national programs like the Endangered Species Act. Even if they make every attempt to comply, motivated third parties can interfere with progress, requiring federal hearings with little or no cause to halt undesired projects. All this uncertainty is quite destructive.

4. Quashing U.S. Investment: Billions in investment in U.S. economic growth are simply sitting on the sideline, waiting to see what will happen when these new regulations go into effect. 

Predictions of two year delays in any new projects have also caused many to invest in growth outside the U.S. where similar regulations do not exist. As a result, companies are simply not expanding domestically. Rather than opening a new office, adding a new facility, or growing existing operations, businesses are working to squeeze more productivity out of current infrastructure. This is why the U.S. has begun to bounce back while unemployment numbers remain stuck above 9 percent.

The damage to growth that over burdensome rules and regulations have caused in lost investment is currently incalculable. And with the total cost of federal regulation already standing at $1.75 trillion each year, it’s little wonder that the rise of the modern federal regulatory state clearly tracks along with the evisceration of America’s manufacturing sector.

Safeguarding our environment is important, and EPA is a necessary agency to ensure this occurs. The great environmental problems that plagued us before 1970 have largely been cleaned up; yet, the agency’s continues to overreach on regulations which destroy businesses, eliminate jobs, and raise taxes. 

The United States needs to find a smart balance between economic growth and environmental awareness.

At 40, EPA is spiraling out of control to a greater extent than even Charlie Sheen and must be reined in. Its destructive path must be addressed if we intend to enjoy an economic renaissance.

Andrew Langer serves as president of the Institute for Liberty, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization dedicated to defending America’s small businesses.

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