Man-crush David Roberts has a great article in the latest Washington Monthly on what it is that makes the EPA — and the Nixon-era environmental laws that underlie it — so special (The end of the EPA as we know it):
The core laws that shape the EPA’s mission — the Clean Air and Water Acts, passed in the early 1970s — are among the most dynamic and aspirational ever to issue from the U.S. Congress. It’s not that the standards in the original bills were all that strict, but that they were designed to evolve. The laws mandate that the EPA regularly revisit its standards and update them based on the latest science.
Take the Clean Air Act, the main target of recent GOP attacks. It not only establishes specific rules for an enumerated class of pollutants, it also instructs the EPA to set standards for “any air pollutant” that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,” and to review and update those standards every five years. That makes the law a living, breathing thing. Congress or the president must intervene to prevent stronger and stronger clean air protections.
Environmental law, in other words, is one of the few federal domains where political gridlock can work in favor of science-based policy. All elected officials have to do is stay out of the way. Scholars David Sousa and Christopher Mc- Grory Klyza call this fitful but persistent advance of the law “green drift.”
Roberts goes on to talk about the TRAIN and REINS Acts, which the Republicans calling the shots in Congress would love to pass, and which would gut the EPA. So even given the disappointments that people like me are feeling about Obama, it’s important to realize that any of the current Republican would-be nominees (including Ron Paul, who believes that the right way to deal with air and water pollution is for the victims to sue the perpetrators) would be disasters if actually elected. At least for people who breathe air and drink water.