The Coming Republican Assault on the EPA

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.

63 Responses to “The Coming Republican Assault on the EPA”

  1. knarlyknight Says:

    Isn’t the key criticism of the EPA that it is fine in theory but ineffectual in practice?

    Doesn’t it give polluters the option of continuing to pollute if they pay the fines, and the federal Government often just waives or defers the fines anyway so as not to cripple an industry and put jobs in jeapardy? Like a tiger that refuses to use its teeth.

    Sounds like Ron Paul wants to make room for more effective state laws (at least in the Economics textbooks which generally argue that private property rights provide the best outcomes) by removing a federal behemoth that wasn’t within federal jurisdiction to implement in the first place, according to the tenth amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

  2. jbc Says:

    Ron Paul, as near as I can tell, is an ideologue who has been seduced by the beauty of his own narrow belief into thinking that it provides a framework that can solve every problem. He’s a “when you have a hammer, all your problems look like nails” guy. If you honestly believe that eliminating the EPA so that states can put more-effective environmental laws into place is his actual goal, and would be the actual result of electing him president, I’d be interested in seeing what your evidence of that is.

    Since you go on to cite private property rights as providing the best outcomes, I’m guessing you don’t really have a coherent strategy for replacing the regulatory structure of the EPA with state regulations, and just want to do away with regulations altogether so the magical market forces can do their magic. Or at least, that you’ve been seduced by those who make that argument, maybe without actually digging into it too deeply because some of Paul’s other ideas (like nonintervention abroad, and decriminalization of marijuana, maybe?) are attractive enough that they outweigh other considerations in your mind.

    I happen to think there are isolated parts of Ron Paul’s agenda that are pretty reasonable. But I think that’s more like a stopped clock being right twice a day than an indication that his overall agenda would be anything other than a catastrophe if actually implemented.

    Granted, the EPA is big and bureaucratic and has been the victim of decades of assaults both internal and external by politicians hostile to its regulatory mission. It’s not perfect. It’s just better than the alternative that either Paul or the Republican candidates generally appear to be offering for dealing with air and water pollution.

  3. NorthernLite Says:

    Certain things require an overarching or federal role – air and water regulations being a good example, among many others.

    I agree with some of Paul’s ideas (specifically the two jbc mentioned) but leaving environmental regulations to the states would be a disaster. Air and water pollution don’t respect invisible boundaries.

    I would hope that this far-right stance of gutting or even eliminating the EPA is just playing to the far-right audience, who view any kind of government regulation as evil.

    I’m not a US citizen but I don’t believe these views on the EPA are shared by anything but a small portion of the Republican Party. Am I wrong?

  4. knarlyknight Says:

    Actually jbc, I agree and strongly suspect there is no coherent plan to properly replace the EPA functions that work at a state level. Also, you’re very right that, to me, Paul’s other ideas are more than attractive enough to overweigh shortfalls where his rhetoric glosses over an absence of any practical plan to implement.

    However, where practical plans are absent it’s fair to assume that he’ll therefore be stymied in implementing his rhetoric. Sort of like Obama promising to close Guantanamo: that sounded frightening to the wwnj freaking out that all them terrrorists will be let loose on the streets of America, as it played out Obama did what he could in a pragmatic sense but ended up breakign his word.

  5. knarlyknight Says:

    In sum, Ron Paul represents real change but in the end his more scary/unpractical rhetoric will not have a hope in hell of proceeding due to cooler heads prevailing elsewhere.

  6. enkidu Says:

    Ron Paul is a real 20-60-20 pol to me

    20% of what he says is eminently sensible
    60% is mostly head scratchingly incomprehensible
    20% scares me to death (cuckoo for cocopuffs!)

  7. shcb Says:

    Your loss. Funny how you won’t listen to one conservative, but you will listen to another that believes in your 911 conspiracy. (besides, I know you’ve already read my post) :-)

  8. knarlyknight Says:

    death in the family, signing off for a while.

  9. NorthernLite Says:

    Yeah, I think what I like most about Ron Paul are his supporters. Most politicians can only dream of having a following as dedicated as those folks are.

  10. NorthernLite Says:

    My fav PWND clip:

  11. shcb Says:

    Yeah, the last time we had a candidate with that rabid supporters was Obama, Paul would be as bad as Obama just in the opposite direction. it would be like a yo-yo with a twenty foot string.

  12. NorthernLite Says:

    I think his supporters are more rabid…

  13. shcb Says:

    Ha Ha, I have to agree with you.

  14. shcb Says:

    I’m a little disappointed though, you couldn’t find a coed with a Ron Paul tramp stamp? My mind is wondering now, I can just see Paul’s face tattooed on her left breast… 30 years later and a bunch of saggage… oh, threw up in my mouth a little.

  15. NorthernLite Says:

    I was too busy watching the “class warfare” battle taking place in the republican race.

    It’s very entertaining watching some of these right-wingers going after Romney for being… a right-winger.

  16. shcb Says:

    I sense you think there is some injustice here.

  17. enkidu Says:

    Listening to Jerry Brown on the public radio/intertubes I noticed one claim that I thought interesting. He claims the state is doing better on its fiscal outlook, where last year we faced a $20B deficit, we now face a deficit 1/4 that. ‘Only’ a $5B shortfall! uh, hooray?

    So lets look at some round numbers on my previous posting, shall we?

    I saw numbers for CA’s fed inputs at around $314 Billion in taxes etc. i.e. we pay out $314B. That chart I linked to says (roughly) $0.75 of every dollar going out to the feds comes back into the state. Let us just round off CA’s fed tax outlays to $300B to make it easy for taxamagical morans. So we send in $300B and get $225B back. The difference (using stoopid lib math stuff like basic subtraction) is $75B. Our state budget deficit was previously about 25% of the size of what we ‘over’ pay to the feds. At $5B we would only need a 6.66% increase in fed dollars coming in to reduce that to zero. $5 Billion, heck we mislaid more than that in pallets of cash we sent to the Iraqis. Something to think about.

    Maybe we should amend the Constitution to include a clause that 100% of the money taken from each state by the feds must be spent in that state. Seems fair to me! Heck, lets leave the lean mean guberminting machine a bit of wiggle room. Let’s make it 99% has to go back. I like the ring of that! 99%! 99%!

    It’d sure get the gvt to shrink in them thar red states, yessiree!

  18. shcb Says:

    The part of the equation you are missing is the choices California has made. The money that goes out is in the form of taxes, we agree with that, the money that comes back is in the form of things like Medicare, road construction, and contracts for governmental work and widgets (lots of other things, but I agree, let’s keep it simple).

    If California is getting screwed on Medicare and road construction, you have a point, but if that is the case, let’s just take those things out of the hands of the feds and let every state take care of that themselves. But this is one place where a little socialism is a good thing. A rich state helping a poor one a little isn’t a bad thing if that rich state benefits from it. On a simple scale, when you drive down the interstate through a poor state it is nice to have a good road, better than they could afford if California and Colorado didn’t chip in a little. So we will probably never get to the point where we get back what we spend, it’s just a cost of choosing to live in a nicer place.

    So let’s get to the contracts. You call it pork, well, I’m sure there is a lot of that, but there is a legitimate purpose for a federal government, and that government needs widgets, we bomb places from time to time, we need bombs, people work in government offices, they need chairs and desks, the roads need snow plows and the toilets need toilet paper. The government doesn’t make anything so they have to buy this stuff, where they buy it is added into the money that comes back to the state. This is where another choice is made by the states. Many years ago Colorado decided they didn’t want to base their economy on manufacturing, especially heavy manufacturing, they didn’t want the pollution and they didn’t want the class of people that work in factories. They made the conscious decision to go after tourism as the primary form of income, it was clean and ski bums tend to be better educated than factory workers. So we have not only not encouraged companies that would bring some of that federal money back into the state, we discouraged it, now stalwarts like Gates and Samsonite are gone. That doesn’t mean we aren’t getting our fair share, we just decided we didn’t want that particular chunk of money, we let someone else have it.

    If you want to get in the black of the fed in and out payments all you have to do is make your state appealing to manufacturers and go after the work, you did it before, in the early/mid 80’s you had a surplus because of your aerospace industries, it’s your choice. But no, we’re not going to just give you money.

  19. enkidu Says:

    Obviously, you have no idea what I am talking about.
    Indeed, I am pretty sure you have no idea what you are talking about.

  20. shcb Says:

    To the contrary I know exactly what you are talking about. It is just that there is no basis to make the assertion the blue states are somehow shouldering more responsibility than the red. Now that may be the case, but this evidence doesn’t show it. I know you want to somehow blame Republicans for everything, but this one just falls flat. All this says is some states pay out more than they bring in, and some bring in more than they pay out, if you want to make a case that isn’t fair, you need more information. When you are all finished you will probably find the difference is the stuff the government is buying is made in the states that have a surplus, or the really poor states. Now this may be an indication the red states are more hospitable to manufacturing, but even that would require more digging. Good discussion.

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