Thursday, February 10, 2011

Curbing the EPA

Today, I have been in conversation with a couple of other Big commenters over EPA accountability and whether the EPA should even exist.  In the article that got the conversation started, writer AWR Hawkins feels that recent efforts by the now Republican controlled House to curb the EPA and their wacky ways don’t go far enough:

“Fortunately, Republicans in the new Congress have seen the EPA’s latest power-grab for what it is and have offered two pieces of legislation to curtail the power of the mammoth agency. The bills, one of which was introduced by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and the other by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), bar the EPA ‘from using its regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.’ In doing this, the bills literally roll back the clock by taking away powers the EPA has unilaterally given itself during the last 40 years (like the power to regulate CO2 emissions)”

“The only disappointing thing about Barrasso, Inhofe, and Upton are doing is that they don’t go far enough. In other words, it’s not just to rein in the EPA but to abolish it.”

I said in the comments section that I didn’t agree with the abolishment of the EPA.  Here is my comment;

Not sure I agree with abolishment of the EPA, but the bills to bring it back to what the agency is supposed to be, a research agency to offer President advice, I think has tons of merit. The impacts of clean or dirty air and water have impacts across borders so I think the case could be made the type of agency needs to be at the federal level. We just need to remove its teeth.  However, education should be a state mandate and the DOE should be abolished. It is too difficult for a federal agency to write rules for educational needs that are different from state to state. Why should a state like Nebraska, who has a decent education program, be impacted by states like Arkansas and Mississippi, who education programs suck, even with federal mandates.

Not too long after I posted this comment another reader posted back:

Can the president not consult with experts outside of an official agency?
Why does the president need to consult with anyone on environmental issues anyway…
The office has assumed too much power I think.

My return comment:

Xxxxx, I think I see where you are going with this. Are you talking about using a private company or companies for environmental advice? The idea does have some merit. The concern that I have with using private business for this type of advice is accountability. While the EPA is certainly full of ideologues , there is an system for accountability. In the private sector, not so much. All new types of rules and regulations would have to be written to cover the use of a private firm providing advice to the President. Plus, what would stop the company from providing the advice for financial gain? While I do love capitalism, blending government and the private sector like this would open the door for massive corruption.  This corruption would be more difficult to expose due to the lack of accountability.

I don’t think I did a very good job of convincing the commenter that I am a small government kind of guy. But I am not a no-government guy. The need for some form of government oversight is clear to me. Lack of government oversight has given us the Super Fund sites like the Love Canal and George AFB, CA. As I have stated other times in my blog posts, I am NOT a tree-hugger but I firmly believe we need to be good stewards of our resources. They should be exploited to the best of our abilities, but we also must protect to the best of our abilities. For this to happen, government needs to provide oversight.

I also didn’t answer one of his questions:

He may consult whoever he pleases be it in private industry or academia.  But I repeat, why does the president need to consult with anyone on environmental issue anyway…

So I responded, at least I think I did. Not sure if my answer satisfied the commenter.

Xxxxx, please don't mistake my concern as some form of growing government. I want the EPA scaled back to the level mentioned in the above article. As for why he needs to consult, anyone in a leadership position should not make decisions in a vacuum. As a former leader myself (now retire military), I sought input all the time from co-workers, peers, and subject-matters experts. Once I had the information I needed, I would do my best to make an educated decision. While the input might have been from others, the outcome of the decision rested solely on my shoulders.  Whether you are a tree-hugger or a pillager of the environment or some place in between, I’d think you’d want the President to act on these matters from an educated perspective.  If you believed in saving every tree in the forest and every fish in the rivers, you’d still want to know if your action were going to be enough to return us back to the Garden of Eden. If you wanted every mountain in West Virginia lopped off to expose the coal, you’d want to know how many jobs this would create.  In both cases, you’d want the data and information to justify your decision.

Another commenter started a different thread:

Why do you want an unaccountable agency in charge of ANYTHING that you deem important?

The EPA is a Presidential appointed position with the status of Cabient-rank, so it leadership has to go through the same process as the rest of the Cabinet.  Here is my response:

I disagree that the EPA is not accountable.  Lisa Jackson, the current head of the EPA, was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate. This would qualify as accountability according to the Constitution. There is no question her appointment was fast-tracked due to the overwhelming democrat majority in the Senate in 2009, but the process still had to follow the rules laid out in the Constitution. Sometimes the “checks and balances” don’t work as well as they should have, but the American voters partially took care of that last November. I also add that due to the makeup of the House and Senate prior to November, the President and the EPA pretty much could do whatever they wanted. The House of Representatives is working on de-fanging the EPA .

It looked like this commenter and myself were starting to find some common ground.

But you would agree there is more accountability with elected officials --- right? That’s what I mean, there is no direct way to hold them accountable.  And what they do doesn’t have the media spotlight on it like any of the branches of government.

Most of what the EPA has done over the years has been done under the radar.  And Congress is under no heat for what they do. Shouldn’t be that way. Especially when the EPA has the power to literally take the economy down.

As I said, it looks like we are finding common ground.

I think what Barrasso and the other are doing is a good step in the right direction; get this rouge agency under some form of control.  They can’t do it directly because of the way the separation of powers is written into the Constitution, but they can put up road blocks and they can wrest control from the EPA through legislative actions.

The point I was trying to make through the back and forth was that I agree the EPA has stepped way outside its original mandate laid out by President Nixon way back in the early ‘70s. But I don’t think going back to 1969 is the answer either. The EPA has done some good things, such as laying the framework for cleaner air and water. Congress passed laws dictating how this needs to happen based on the information and research provided by the EPA. But now the EPA is skipping that whole Congress-thingy and trying to enact rules and regulations without Congressional approval or input.  That is where I start drawing a line. Giving that much power to one agency, and one person in particular, is too much for me. We live in a system of checks and balances. Jackson and the EPA are trying to circumvent these checks and balances and need to be brought back to earth.

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