On Thursday, December 2, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) turned 40 years old — a major milestone in the life of an agency that resulted from President Richard Nixon’s vision to protect the nation’s environment. Established in 1970 by executive order, the EPA now regulates everything from pesticides, to water, to the air itself and has grown to over 18,000 full-time employees.
To many, the EPA has been an effective bureaucratic arm that has reduced Americans’ exposure to harmful pollutants and chemicals. Those who held this view celebrated Thursday, and wished the EPA a “Happy Birthday,” and another successful four decades.
“The last 40 years have seen hard-won advances supported by both sides of the aisle, and today the EPA plays an essential role in our everyday lives,” wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in an op-ed to mark the occasion.” When you turn on the shower or make a cup of coffee, the water you use is protected from industrial pollution and untreated sewage.”
“At lunch, would you prefer your food with more, or less, protection from pesticides?” she asked.
Jackson also warned readers about the incoming members of Congress who “threaten to roll back the EPA’s efforts.”
“Last month’s elections were not for a vote for dirtier air or more pollution in our water. No one was sent to Congress with a mandate to increase health threats to our children or return us to the era before the EPA’s existence when, for example, nearly every meal in America contained elements of pesticides linked to nerve damage, cancer and sometimes death,” wrote Jackson.
She may be right, but there are plenty of people who are concerned not only with the EPA’s list of “accomplishments,” but also with the rapid growth the agency has experienced over the last 40 years. This year alone saw the agency take many unprecedented and, some would say, harmful steps.
One example is the EPA’s decision to expand the Clean Air Act to allow the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. When cap and trade legislation failed to reach President Obama’s desk, the EPA stepped in– under the express permission of the Supreme Court – to regulate carbon dioxide. In other words, the EPA responded to Congress’ decision not to pass the legislation by giving them the proverbial middle finger.
But with the Supreme Court in your corner, it’s possible to do almost anything. In 2007’s Massachusetts v. EPA ruling, the Court decided that if the EPA found carbon dioxide was an endangerment to society, it could be regulated per the Clean Air Act. Up until that point, the Act only allowed the EPA to regulate specifically designated pollutants.
Some members of Congress, did not respond well to the EPA’s edict. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska proposed legislation to block the EPA’s new set of carbon regulations, arguing that the agency was engaging in a bureaucratic power grab. Although all Republicans and six Democrats voted for the amendment, it failed to pass in June of 2010. Since then, Jackson has been setting the groundwork for implementing new regulations in 2011.
“Congress should mark the 40th anniversary of the EPA by blocking the agency’s effort to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act,” Tom Borelli of the Free Enterprise Project told The Daily Caller. “The EPA’s endangerment finding was an extreme example of regulatory over reach that far exceeds the agency’s ability to address such a mammoth undertaking.”
Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute went even further to outline what he saw as potential dangers from the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon, in a letter he sent to senators.
“[The] EPA has positioned itself to determine the stringency of fuel economy standards for the auto industry, set climate policy for the nation, and even amend provisions of the Clean Air act–powers Congress never delegated to the agency,” wrote Lewis.
“The Endangerment Rule is both trigger and precedent for sweeping policy changes Congress never approved. America could end up with a pile of greenhouse gas regulations more costly than any climate bill or treaty the Senate has declined to pass or ratify, yet without the people’s representatives ever voting on it.”
Then there are the new guidelines the EPA issued earlier this month that require state and local government to issue pollution permits, as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020. Of course, achieving that goal won’t be an easy or cheap task for the private sector.
And as a Washington Examiner editorial recently pointed out, a study by the Manufacturer’s Alliance found the rule would result in significant job losses.
Also earlier this year, the EPA unveiled its new Transport Rule – designed to regulate emissions from things like power plants, from traveling across state borders. But as Borelli pointed out, even that has unintended consequences.
“Over time the EPA has become a job-killing machine,” Borelli told TheDC. “Its current attack on the coal industry through the air transport rule will raise electricity prices and drive more Americans to the unemployment line.”
So, while the EPA’s birthday was celebrated by some, not all were singing its praises.