Our nation’s environmental and economic crossroads

Ryan Houck Executive Director, Free Market America
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Our country is at a crossroads.

It is not a simple intersection of two streets. It is an interstate highway spaghetti junction. There are perhaps more threats to our economic and personal freedoms today than at any time in our nation’s history.

When confronted with so many threats, it is natural to focus on the ones that get the most media attention: a national debt that threatens our long-term prosperity and condemns generations of future Americans to grapple with crippling deficits; a health care plan poised to aggravate that debt and diminish the quality of care while forcing individuals to buy commercial products and religious institutions to act contrary to their faith; the growth in government entitlements, which is rapidly forcing us down Europe’s twilight path and is widening the divide between those who pay for government and those who take from it; and a monetary policy that devalues the dollar and threatens its status as the world’s reserve currency.

With issues such as these reaching crisis levels, there has been too little public attention paid to another threat to our prosperity that is every bit as serious: the threat of environmental extremism.

We’re not talking about your grandfather’s environmental movement. Extremism has poisoned modern environmentalism, transforming an agenda of conservation into a shameless economic suicide pact.

Two weeks ago the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a battery of new regulations, the purpose of which is to make it economically impossible to build new coal plants in America. This makes about as much sense as Saudi officials outlawing oil production in Saudi Arabia. Coal is America’s most abundant and affordable source of energy, accounting for roughly 40 percent of our nation’s electricity. Unencumbered by common sense, environmental extremists are now waging a multimillion-dollar war on this indispensable domestic resource. Worse still, the EPA has ceased to function as an impartial umpire on matters of environmental regulation. Instead, the agency has strapped on its gear and stepped up to the plate for environmental extremists, regardless of its responsibilities to taxpayers.

It gets worse. Whether it’s energy, mining, logging or farming, the method by which the EPA foists new regulations onto ordinary Americans is deeply troubling. It works like this: Radical environmental interests, like EarthJustice, file a lawsuit against their friends at the EPA. Rather than mount a vigorous legal defense, EPA quickly capitulates and gleefully agrees to a settlement in which America’s taxpayers, farmers or businesses lose billions — and in which, far too often, environmental lawyers make millions. A report for the Small Business Administration indicates that environmental regulations now drain more than $241 billion out of our country’s economy, costing the average small business more than $4,000 per worker.

Unfortunately, the EPA outrages are not limited to macroeconomic issues. Sometimes, they can become very personal. Mike and Chantell Sackett are small business owners in Priest Lake, Idaho. Several years ago, they bought a small parcel of land in a residential neighborhood and obtained the necessary permits to begin building their three-bedroom home. Without warning, the EPA labeled the Sacketts’ home “wetlands,” ordered them to cease building and demanded that they remove the gravel that had been laid in preparation for construction — an order that would cost the Sacketts more than they paid for the entire property.

The claim that the Sacketts’ home — situated in a platted subdivision — is somehow “wetlands” is dubious at best. However, the most disturbing part of the story is that the EPA refused to give the Sacketts a hearing or even allow them to appeal the decision in court until the Supreme Court ruled that the agency was required to do so. The Sacketts’ neighbors have not been forced to obtain “wetlands” permits; the Sacketts did not find their home listed on the EPA’s online “wetlands inventory”; and the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the Sacketts in court, reports that the EPA is empowered to levy fines of $75,000 per day — totaling more than $80 million — until the Sacketts comply.

That is wrong.

It should not be within the power of government to bully honest Americans out of their dreams. It should not be within the power of government to single-handedly decide that seniors and single mothers are paying too little to heat their homes or run their cars. It should not be within the power of government to strangle domestic energy sources through a combination of heavy-handed regulation and passive litigation.

And it’s gone on long enough.

This year, to celebrate Earth Day, Americans for Limited Government is helping launch FreeMarketAmerica.organ organization dedicated to defending the principles of economic freedom against the threat of environmental extremism.

And on Earth Day, FreeMarketAmerica.org will begin a national TV campaign based on its provocative new video entitled, “If I wanted America to fail …”

This year, we hope you’ll join us in celebrating our planet by fighting for the people who inhabit it. Go to FreeMarketAmerica.org, watch the video and act — before it’s too late.

Ryan Houck is the executive director of Free Market America.