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Sluggish economy can be jump-started by revamping EPA

By Jay N. Lehr
Special to Tribune News Service

THE U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has grown into a leviathan, expanding its authority far beyond the restrictions established by law and extending its activities to issues best left to the states.

Indeed, the EPA has become one of the most powerful agencies in our government, limiting economic growth and people’s use of their property with little legislative oversight.

President-elect Donald Trump was right when he said, “Overregulation presents one of the greatest barriers to entry into markets and one of the greatest costs to businesses that are trying to stay competitive.” EPA regulations cost the nation’s economy trillions of dollars each year.

And with rare exceptions, EPA regulations implemented after the agency’s first decade have failed to improve the environment.

That has occurred because the science used to support the thousands of new regulations is generally without merit. EPA hires pseudo-scientists to support any directive it chooses, continuously stifling the U.S. economy at the behest of radical environmental lobbyists, who largely control the agency.

Current EPA administrator Gina McCarthy exemplifies the agency’s disturbed culture. McCarthy is an explicit climate warrior who has claimed, “Climate change is the greatest threat of our time, and the time for action is now.”

In light of that belief, McCarthy explicitly stated her intention to act as an environmental dictator: “I will tell you that I didn’t go to Washington to sit around and wait for congressional action. Never done that before, and don’t plan to in the future.”

Instead of carrying out the laws enacted by Congress, McCarthy has taken on the role of policymaker, pushing regulations such as the Mercury and Air Toxics rule, the Waters of the United States rule and the Clean Power Plan, all of which have either been thrown out or put on hold by federal courts or the U.S. Supreme Court for going far beyond what the law allows.

Multiple reports by the EPA’s own inspector general and the U.S. Senate and the House show McCarthy has repeatedly violated federal law and EPA guidelines by collaborating with activist groups to lobby for laws and regulations restricting the oil and gas industry.

McCarthy has encouraged EPA employees to work with environmental lobbyists in secret, holding meetings outside EPA’s headquarters in order to avoid leaving a record of their conversations.

On Trump’s first day in office, he should appoint a new EPA administrator, steeped in scientific knowledge, who sees the job as that of an adviser, not a super legislator, to advise him on which environmental regulations should be nullified to the benefit of the nation’s environment and its economy.

In addition, the new president should support pending legislation requiring that any regulation imposing a more than $100 million impact on the economy, or $10 million on any particular state, be approved by a full vote of Congress before taking force. If Congress rejects any such regulations, EPA should have to go back to the drawing board.

Congress and the president should also begin a process to efficiently dismantle the federal EPA over a five-year period, turning over the agency’s duties and responsibilities to a new agency made up of representatives from each of the 50 states’ environmental agencies.

Different states face different environmental issues. What resources to expend and what problems to prioritize would be better addressed by people representing the states than by bureaucrats in Washington.

Such actions would do more to grow energy production and the economy than almost any others the new president could take.

Jay N. Lehr is the science director at the Heartland Institute, a free-market-solutions think tank in Arlington Heights, Ill.

Carefully reform — don’t wreck — the EPA

By Michael E. Kraft
Special to Tribune News Service

THE 2016 elections put Republicans in charge of the White House and both houses of Congress, giving them a unique opportunity to reshape policy pertaining to environmental protection, energy and climate change. Consequently, the Environmental Protection Agency will, no doubt, be at the center of what are likely to be some very contentious debates.

Conservatives have long criticized EPA actions, most recently its Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through a gradual shift from coal-fired power plants to cleaner energy sources, such as natural gas.

Other EPA decisions on vehicle fuel-economy standards and improvements in air, surface-water and drinking-water quality also have raised industry hackles of late and prompted critics to assert regulatory overreach even when these decisions were essential to protect public health.

How, then, should Republicans use their new political clout over the EPA and environmental laws? There are two ways they can go about their business.

One is to follow President Reagan’s approach and attempt wholesale deregulation and dismantling of programs, budgets and staffs, which is favored by some.

However, this is a highly risky strategy because, as happened with Reagan, it could easily prompt a loud public outcry and be reversed under public pressure.

Polls tell us, without question, that the public wants to be protected from unhealthy air, unsafe water, hazardous and toxic chemicals and the risks of climate change. Recall the Flint, Mich., drinking-water crisis and similar concerns over water quality in cities and schools across the nation.

Ignoring such public preferences is never a good idea. In the end, Reagan failed to reform environmental policy or the EPA itself.

Instead, he provided short-term regulatory relief for industry at the cost of political backlash that led to even more stringent regulation.

A second way to act holds a greater promise of long-term success. This is based on a realistic understanding of the problems we face, grounded in solid science and economics. It would pursue broadly backed and much needed statutory and administrative reforms.

The American public has told us for years that it wants to see more bipartisan and cooperative legislative solutions rather than the polarization, animosity and policy gridlock that have dominated Congress in recent years.

We saw this kind of cooperation earlier this year when both parties voted overwhelmingly for the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act to replace an old and largely ineffectual policy on toxic chemicals.

How might this approach work today? We know a great deal about what needs to be changed in environmental policy and at the EPA itself thanks to decades of work by environmental scientists, economists, lawyers, political scientists and others.

We could improve how well these policies function through adoption of flexible and performance-based regulatory reform, incentives for industry to devise and employ more sustainable practices and well-designed information-disclosure programs to keep the public informed.

In addition, the EPA itself is long overdue for administrative reorganization that would help to integrate its statutory responsibilities into a more coherent and long-term strategy for addressing complex 21st century challenges, such as climate change and sustainable economic development.

Cities and states across the nation and a great many major corporations already have strongly embraced these goals. It is time for Congress to do the same.

This election was exceptionally close, with Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote but Donald Trump ultimately prevailing. Environmental issues were barely mentioned during the campaign. By the usual standards we apply to elections, there is no mandate here to dismantle environmental policies.

What the American public wants instead is that the two parties work together to reform the EPA and the statutes that it administers. Trump need not blow this opportunity by wrecking the EPA and putting public health and the Earth’s future in jeopardy.

Michael Kraft is a professor emeritus of political science and public and environmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay.