Sometimes it pays to be old for you’ve seen things, like black and white TV or beer cans you had to punch a hole in the top to drink from, which a lot of people today think are only urban legends.
Once upon a time there was a need for the Environmental Protection Agency. And there still is…but as it was originally designed.
I was in a state environmental regulatory agency (strip mining) when the National Environmental Policy Act was passed by Congress in Dec 1969. It was part of a batch of environmental legislation from the late Johnson-thru early Nixon administrations that actually made some sense at the time. It included the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
At the time this was how a lot of America looked (Pittsburgh around 1968)
and southern California, midday
It was pretty nasty out there. As for water quality, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland actually caught fire! Yep. Fire. And a personal recollection, my family split our summer vacations between Florida and Detroit (respective grandparents), and of course we all preferred Florida so we could do the beach thing for 2-3 days. But in 1960 my dad decided to offer us the splendid beaches of Lake Erie near Toledo, where, although there were no signs posted, we instinctively knew not to even get close to the water, what with the trash, debris, and a dead fish every third step. We didn’t even inflate our inner tube.
Regardless of any ulterior leftwing motives behind all this environmental legislation, most of which have been realized, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were good things. So was the EPA. They got the job done.
EPA was created by Richard Nixon, by executive order, to set out minimum standards for the states to regulate. Originally it wasn’t in the original design for EPA to regulate/enforce directly except in those few areas (interstate) where the states could not, such as major river effluents in the Ohio, Mississippi, etc. Mostly the federal government set minimum air and water quality standards and the states had to meet or better them.
Then it was the states that went around, like a traffic cop, with a citation booklet, passing out cease and desist orders and tickets. Not the feds.
Then something happened in the Carter years.
At this time of my tenure in the Department of Natural Resources, which oversaw Water, Forestry and Surface Mining we had one attorney, and I was his clerk. (Hold that number, One) I also subbed as a certified strip mine inspector.
In 1971, graduating from law school, I went into the Army, not to return to my old state digs until 1979, in Carter’s term. What I found then was that the Department of Natural Resources had moved from a small leased office complex to a giant new high rise across town, where, in just those few short years, the number of departmental attorneys exceeded the total number of employees the department had in 1971.
Call it mission shift, as I will explain.
Without going into a long boring history, what changed was open meetings laws and other federal/state enactments that mandated citizens be given notice of all public hearings, meetings etc, and eventually, that the people could demand still another hearing if they disagreed with the findings of those hearings. A bureaucrat-lawyers dreamland.
These were lawyer’s relief acts for the private sector too, since besides providing a need for more lawyers in every state agency, it encouraged environmental groups that just a few years earlier had spent most of their time outside hiking and watching birds, doing the John Muir thing, (Wilderness Club, Sierra Club, even Audubon Society) to become fully-armed lobbying, litigation and activists in the state and federal political arenas.
And somewhere along the way, we, the taxpayers, started paying much of these not-for-profit NGO lobbyists’ legal expenses, which, needless to say, was a great encouragement to sue.
Environmentalists always had the numerical advantage, since they were organized, and could always bring at least fifty ne’er do well layabouts and rich kids to any public meeting as a way to stampede any proceedings while interested citizen on the other side of the issue were still at work.
Two conflicting EPA missions
By the time Reagan became president in 1980, this shifting of weight from the field to the front office highlighted a struggle for the soul of the EPA . But because RR’s administration was none too keen about broadening EPA’s power, slowing down the environmentalist front considerably, it would be the Clinton era before these distinctions became manifest.
This conflict is at the heart of every regulatory agency (as originally created) in America, pitting 1) the primary mission to observe, measure, and report, which is ever-lasting against 2) the secondary mission to regulate and enforce, which diminishes once air and water goals have been attained.
The first mission is heavy with technicians, scientists, etc, and in theory, their mission is never-ending for we will always needs someone to check the pH of a creek or collect air samples and do analysis.
It was what would happen with this information that would change, for they would then send this data to a front office who would then evaluate it against current standards for any required action. Since 90% of businesses were in compliance there wasn’t much for this office to do but file the reports away.
This is because, despite the jawboning that went on between private industry and the government, every knew the air and water had to be made cleaner. In every sphere, water and air, companies big and small attended to their duty of cleaning up their emissions. And just as designed, by 1992 virtually all the goals originally set forth in the original Air and Water acts had been met. If Pittsburgh’s air had been a table cloth, you could eat off of it. And the Allegheny and Monongahela, and downstream to the Ohio, you could fish once again, and even eat it.
(Oh, if you know anything about ambient temperatures, i.e., how hot a boiling pot of water is 5-10-20-30 minutes after you turn the burner off, rising earth temperatures from all that pollution in 1968, which wasn’t completely shut off until the 1980s, didn’t begin to subside until the early 1990’s. By 1998 earth temperatures started to cool and have been since, even though the burner had been shut off about 10-12 years earlier. If you’re looking for motive, it is probably the knowledge that this rice bowl was about to end for scientists, in the 1990s, that set off the global warming scam today.)
In any case, by 1994 90%-95% of all that air and water pollution in America had been been cleaned up and it had primarily been done by EPA promulgating rules which Congress enacted and the states enforced.
Mission accomplished? Nope, instead the EPA grew and grew and grew, not just in power, but scope, and yes, personnel. By 1992 EPA’s regulatory-enforcement section should have reverted, like my old office in Natural Resources, to a 2-3 man law firm.
(Although not a fan of Wikipedia, I’ve attached their link to see how the agency has grown since 1992…almost all the “programs” are Clinton-era or later.)
Why EPA didn’t revert to design was because of two things, both bureaucratic imperatives and a leftist environmental agenda.
Seeing that the 1970 mission had been accomplished, environmental lobbyists pressed Congress to broaden EPA’s power to regulate and enforce rules on their own, as well as grant them newer “territory” to manage. It helped that by raising standards beyond reasonableness, the enforcement branch could become more active. (Call it a jobs stimulus.) It would be an interesting study to compile the list of citations issued from 1994-to date that were considered legal and safe in the 70s and 80s…when the environment was 90% dirtier and more polluted.
The agency came up with questionable legal definition, grabbing jurisdiction from states it really didn’t have. Claim-jumping. To keep companies at bay it had to have a whip with which to threaten them, essentially, as we’ve seen increasingly under the Obama regime, by threatening to put them out of business if they challenged them in court. Extortion. The Chicago way.
EPA also works best in regions where they know they have leftie federal judges who will back them up.
Anyone who understands bureaucratic imperatives always knew this is where EPA would end up with the right support:
1. The power to write law without Congress. In 1967, the Johnson Administration passed the Administrative Procedures Act, in which it passed its “law” making authority over to various agencies, without direct congressional approval. Congress maintained some oversight and the power of the purse;
2. The power to fine (seize corporate assets) without due process of law. I haven’t looked at recent cases, but the federal Bureau of Mines was taken to court in the 1970’s about their power to issue really sizable fines without any recourse to courts to question the agency’s finding of facts in the ground. SCOTUS (I think a Carter court) agreed; a chain of case law which should be reviewed and reversed.
3. The power to shut down a business indefinitely and sometimes totally, up to and including company files as we saw with the Gibson Guitar case (Fish and Wildlife, Interior). When I was inspecting strip mines, we had the power to shut jobs down for as many as 14 days, and on the sole word of a field agent. But in the states this carries certain political backlash that made these relatively rare, i.e., plenty of warnings, few shut-down orders. The feds have have greatly broadened that power, due to the fact they feel they are beyond the reach of political backlash;
4. The Global Warming scam, which EPA has not only bought into, but c0-sponsored, has provided EPA with an agency version of perpetual need. The threat of global warming will always be there they say (by design) and so will the need for super-agencies to exist to be able to “stay one step ahead” of the next environmental-climate disaster, always just around the corner.
Any victim will do.
Bill Clinton started this, and should I say cynically, since his buddies at Tyson were polluting every creek in three states under his protection, but if I’m government and I want more money, just find a victim. That’s the rule: Any victim will do.
In air pollution, it was asthma sufferers who were its justification to improve air quality emissions by 1%-2%….while costing more money than the American taxpayers had invested 1970-1988 reducing it 90%!
LadyImpactOhio, who has done a series of environmental reports here, from EPA, Energy, Interior and others, in late December reported EPA was using the same old victimology line along with phony climate-change statistics and questionable (false) fatality predictions to justify doing just as Obama had promised in 2008; to shut down the coal industry in America.
This isn’t just the state of the EPA, but the entire regulatory regime in America today.
From where we were in 1970 to where we’d come by 1998, let alone 2012, there is no justification for the EPA to be much bigger than it was in 1973.
But to roll it back certain other things need to be done by a strong executive and strong congressional leadership, (excuse me, I just lost my teeth laughing so hard) by requiring Congress to start writing its own laws once again instead of passing the buck and the bucks, to the agencies. The chief executive can do most of the rest.
The EPA is the poster boy for all the other agencies, such as OSHA, Interior, Energy, Labor, …so should be looked upon as Gaetan Dugas, Patient Zero, in the AIDS proliferation in the 80s or maybe even Typhoid Mary. EPA’s all of them, a pandemic rather than a specific pain in the butt.
Identify the virus at EPA and you can come up with a vaccine against the whole Washington bureaucratic machinery.
Panetta and Obama have just ordered the RIF of 8400 DoD civilian employees, with another 100, ooo uniformed men and women in queue.
So, imagine the possibilities here.
(Note: Bureaucracy-busting is my consultancy’s bailiwick to some extent, so take note, to de-bureaucratize certain large organizations, public or private, requires a certain amount of stealth. You can’t blow hard about it on the stump. It requires intricate planning and execution, for hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat about to be jerked away from the teat. They can and will do more than squeal.)