Do we need the EPA?

Table adapted from Beyond Red vs. Blue Political Typology, Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, May 4, 2011.  See question  on pp 136-7 on public support for environmental regulation.  This is a first draft of a piece commissioned by The Guardian,"Why the GOP is going after the EPA: Republican lawmakers aim to cut back or even abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, even though it pays for itself, published September 12, 2011.


Who is following the U.S. public in its strong support for protecting the environment?

If you can rely Pew's 2011 survey (see above chart), 71% of those questioned--across the political spectrum--agree with the statement, "This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment." Yet, on September 2, President Obama joined Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) critics in Congress and  GOP  presidential candidates  in  arguing that the agency unnecessarily burdens U.S. industry.

As the clever Erica Grieder (writing as E.G., Austin, in The Economist) says in "The Hole in the Ozone Standards,":

When the White House makes an announcement on the Friday before a holiday weekend, you can bet that it won't be anything in which they take special pride.

Obama stated that while his commitment to public health and the environment is "unwavering,"  he has ordered the EPA to withdraw its draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards in order to
underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.
Ground level ozone is the primary constituent of smog. In June, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) hearing on the Clean Air Act and Public Health.  In July she responded to EPW member Tom Carper (D, DE) that she had opted to review the 2008 ozone standards, rather than keep them in place until the next mandated review in 2013.  Bush's standards--which he  weakened at the last-minute in  2008 and are under court challenge were
not legally defensible given the scientific evidence in the record for the rulemakeing, the requirements of the Clean Air Act and the recommendations of the CASAC [the Congressionally-established, independent  Clean Air Science Advisory Committee.]
Further, were Bush's standards to be
overturned in court, it would have resulted in more financial and planning uncertainty for Cities and States, when they could affort it the least.
The most recent suit may be the one filed June 23 against the EPA for failing to enforce industrial emissions.  Ironically, Republicans on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works reacted with glee, posting this and this, only days after complaining about litigation costs, which had led them to order this study.

Will critics of EPA regulation see the irony, if the cancellation of ozone standards lead to more litigation costs?  Probably not.  Rather they will continue to complain that environmental groups are profiting from the taxpayers by suing the federal government.  What ever happened to concern for the public's health and safety?

Juliet Eilperin--who reports on on science, policy and politics in areas including climate change, oceans, and air quality for the Washington Post--called Obama's statement "a win for the business community."

Of course, Obama's position is nowhere near as extreme as that of Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL), who told an anonymous radio host (listen to the full interview at about 16:45 for context):

You know the fact is, if in fact I think the American people do next November what they started last November, that is, cleaning house, and we do get a Republican-controlled Senate and a Republican president, I think you going to see some dramatic structural changes in this country... Who says the federal government has to have an EPA. Every state has their own environmental protection agency. Why does the federal government need to be doing that? ... I think we’ll have to look at a lot of things that we’re doing at the federal level and ask ourselves, ‘is this really what the federal role?’ And if not, discontinue it.

As far as abolishing the EPA, investigation reporter Mark Schapiro--Senior Correspondent for the
Center for Investigative Reporting(CIR)--tells me,

It's an economic catastrophe to remove incentives and oversight.

Nor, is Obama's position as extreme as that of Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who has filed a bill to merge the EPA w. the Department of Energy.  Other Republicans and some Democrats would weaken the agency through budget riders or reduce its authority in specific areas, arguing against needless "job killing"  regulations.  This despite the fact that reports show the EPA’s regulations to be cost effective.

The CIR's Schapiro--author of  Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power--also tells me,
The dialogue between ‘jobs’ and ‘regulation’ is endless and repetitive, and in almost every instance the claims by industry that new, more protective regulations would result in job losses and harm competitiveness have turned out to be dramatically overstated.
 In the past,  the EPA's  Jackson  countered critics of federal regulation, saying that "[s]mart environmental protection can actually drive innovation."  Are some U.S. industries resisting innovation?  Are there ways--other than through their  lobbying against regulation--that they are putting themselves at a disadvantage in the world market?

The answer to both questions--according to Shapiro--is yes.


More information coming soon:

The Guardian had asked for the following, but I ran out of space because of the breaking news from the Obama admnistration:
  • who funds the critics
  • what things were like before the EPA existed
  • the EPA's budget

To give a more complete picture I'll also add:
  • Cass Sunstein's explanation to Jackson for Obama's September 2 statement
  • reactions to Obama's statement
  • the acceleration of funders' power because of the Supreme Court
  • the more moderate Republican critics with conservative cred  that say the EPA's methods are outdated but the severe critics are misguided:
  • the Democrat-sponsored legislation to weaken the EPA
  • the Republican-sponsored legislation for the same
  • the EPA's cost-benefit ratio, despite its critic's contentions
  • the  current weaknesses in EPA's power (standards of proof before regulation, etc, v.s. European standards)
  • Schapiro's  explanation of  how lobbying for weak regulation undermines U.S. status in the global economy