Today is the Environmental Protection Agency’s 40th birthday. Thank you Richard Nixon: you left us a heck of a legacy on this one.
The media is sure to tout the remarkable environmental progress in the United States over the past 40 years, and indeed we have never had cleaner air, cleaner water, or more plentiful wildlife. By any objective measure, environmental progress has been remarkable over the past 40 years, but it was also remarkable for decades before the creation of the EPA, and indeed every advanced economy has seen dramatic environmental improvement, regardless of its regulatory model.
The real driver is economic growth. As the economy grows, productivity increases and we are able to do more with less. We are more efficient and we are wealthier, able to more easily afford to spend more on environmental protection and preservation. This is a relationship that holds throughout history and throughout the world, where the poorest societies have the most severe environmental problems.
The great Julian Simon reminded us in his classic "Ultimate Resource" that the word "pollutant" used to refer to infectious disease. He wrote: “Humanity's success in reducing these pollutions has been so great that young people today do not even know the names of the great killer pollutions of history -- such as typhoid fever, bubonic plague, and cholera.”
The automobile helped clean up streets previously plagued by horse excrement and indoor plumbing and modern sewers helped eliminate human waste. As recently as 1960 only 22 percent of the U.S. population was served by municipal wastewater systems. Electricity did away with dirty old-fashioned home heating—as recently as 1940 about 55 percent of U.S. homes were heated with coal.
As we have got richer, we have been able to afford cleaner and better technologies.
Unfortunately, the EPA enters its fifth decade on a regulatory rampage that will crush economic growth, make us poorer, and slow down the true driver of environmental improvement. The regulatory rampage includes:
• Greenhouse gas regulations that amount to cap-and-trade via the backdoor, causing the price of energy to skyrocket and creating a bureaucratic nightmare that will redesign most industrial machinery in the United States. These rules are potentially so pervasive that it’s hard to estimate the costs, but they likely run into the trillions.
• An extreme tightening of ground-level ozone rules that have been estimated by the Manufacturers Alliance to knock a jaw-dropping 5.4 percent off of GDP by 2020, destroying 7.3 million jobs. Because these regulations fall heavily on refiners, they will bring a big jump in prices for gasoline and home heating fuel.
• So-called Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule for industrial boilers that are estimated to cost between $10 and $20 billion and destroy as many as 800,000 jobs. These rules would fall hardest on coal-fired power plants, which will have a big impact on electricity prices.
• An absurd 62-miles-per-gallon fuel economy standard by 2025 that will take safe family vehicles off the road and force us all to buy the tiny, underpowered, politically correct cars favored by bureaucrats.
There’s more but those are the most egregious elements of the EPA’s agenda, which at 40 should be mature enough to know not to slam the American people with such extreme policies. These rules will undermine economic growth, which is the real driver of environmental improvement.
Fortunately the EPA is not the final word. The new Congress, elected to stop big government, must step in and stop the EPA as soon as possible.
Phil Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity, which is leading the fight against the EPA at www.RegulationReality.com.