I am responding to Mr. Olsrud’s article from Wednesday, titled “when did the EPA become the bad guys”.
Go read the piece, if you haven’t. I’ll wait.
I was really disappointed when I read this. Given the stature and experience of the author, I was hoping for something better and more convincing.
The first difficulty I have with the piece is the unwritten implication Olsrud makes. He doesn’t quite say, but instead implies, that because in the 1970s, he thinks the EPA did some good things, that the EPA should still be around today, 40 years later, and anyone suggesting otherwise is in the pocket of industry.
Suppose we all accept, for the sake of argument, that there was a legitimate environmental problem in the 1970s, and that creating the EPA was the right way to go deal with that problem, and that the EPA was wildly successful at solving the problems it was created to solve.
That has no bearing on if the EPA of today should exist.
Creations of government have a nasty habit of being nearly immortal. Try to think of a government program or department that has substantially disappeared.
It is perfectly reasonable to suppose that a government might start a group to deal with some particular task, and once that task has been achieved, disband that organization.
We can think of rare examples – like the Manhattan Project, or the Apollo program. Problem identified; team assembled, mission accomplished, team disbanded.
Olsrud claims that the EPA has been wildly successful. If we agree with him, what’s the harm in suggesting that the EPA kick back and retire?
The point is, we shouldn’t assume that all government entities should be immortal. We should cherish the idea that an agency or team can be created, do its job, and then be dismantled or tremendously downsized when it’s goals have been met.
This is how business works. It has to.
The next thing Olsrud claims is that industry didn’t self regulate, and therefore, federal law and the EPA were the only way to combat problems in specific rivers and cities.
Suppose all of that’s true.
How is that relevant to North Dakotans in 2015? What unbearable pollution is happening in our state? Does Olsrud understand that there are already multiple state-level regulatory agencies?
We have some of the cleanest air in the entire country, yet we generate a big pile of our energy from coal. I have always felt, on all occasions and all travels in this great state, that my air is clean enough. We do not live in Detroit, Chicago, or Boston. We live in North Dakota – an entire state with a population less than any of the cities he mentioned.
It may very well be that the EPA was necessary at the time and place he said it was – suppose for argument that we agree that it was. That doesn’t mean it is necessary today, in North Dakota.
Next, he claims that the mood in the country has changed. He apparently bemoans the fact that our politicians have recently been accusing the EPA of overreach.
The mood has changed. It’s been 40 years. The air and water in dense urban areas is much cleaner. Taxes are higher; homes are nicer, life expectancy is up, we’ve had an African American president, and a bunch of people think we’re about to have a female president.
Our world was probably unimaginable to Nixon.
Critically, we’ve had an energy crisis. We’ve had a few of them, actually. We depend on electricity like never before. Homes were still being built with 100 amp main panels in the 1970s. Now many homes have multiple 200 amp services. In the 1970s, we were single car, single television households. Now we’re multiple TV, multiple-car households. Most of us have dishwashers. Most of us have electric dryers. Our water heaters are larger; our air conditioners are bigger.
We’re on the cusp of an electric car revolution.
Our energy needs are higher than ever, and yet, our energy costs are being made artificially high by regulatory action, by entities like the EPA. Since the 1970s, as a nation, we’ve turned our backs on Nuclear power. As a nation, we’ve drastically increased the cost of finding, shipping, and burning coal.
Despite what the climate scientists tell us, it’s still pretty darn cold here in the winter. I pay attention to my electricity bill. I might be very likely to prefer a lower energy cost even if it meant marginally dirtier air.
In fact, I have a wood burning stove in my living room now. I don’t think that’s what the EPA wanted, but that’s what I did.
So, yes, it’s a much different world now than it was in 1970. Nearly everything – and especially Energy – is more expensive, and part of that is the EPA’s fault.
Do you think it’s fair for politicians to ask the same questions I ask? Is it so unthinkable that someone might wonder, “Hey, isn’t our air pretty good lately? Can we slow down with the new regulations a little?”
Olsrud seems to think that although environmental and economic conditions have radically changed, people’s opinions about the cost/benefits of the EPA shouldn’t.
The next thing he mentions is just bizarre. Olsrud stresses in multiple places that the EPA is a federal organization, and only a federal organization could have addressed the problems of yesterday and keep addressing problems in the future.
He never explains why federal involvement was thought necessary in the 1970s, and, his explanation of why he doesn’t trust state officials to regulate polluters is very strange.
In effect, his entire argument is that it’s harder for industries to buy federal officials than state officials.
It might be more expensive, but it’s certainly not more difficult. And there’s no evidence it’s less common.
He actually puts this line of text in his article:
“State employees are just one phone call away from an elected official, probably one who received campaign contributions from the regulated entities.”
How does he think federal office works?
Does he not understand that the EPA serves at the pleasure of the executive branch? Does he not understand that the Obama administration used its executive powers to limit the ability of normal people along the Gulf Coast to go and sue BP after the Deepwater Horizon disaster?
The Obama administration initially protected BP from a near endless queue of potential litigants. He claims that state legislators could be bought by state industries, but we know that employees and elected officials at the federal level are regularly engaging in pay for play to benefit their industry friends and donors.
On the contrary, what we know about regulators and elected officials in the state of North Dakota is that they live in North Dakota. It is flagrantly bizarre to assume that people in Washington DC have more legitimate concern for the air and water quality of North Dakota than do actual North Dakotans.
The feds are perhaps interested. But the locals are implicated.
Not only are people who actually live here more likely to care about the environment here, but they’re more likely to be removed from office if they mismanage their responsibilities here. A federal entity which badly mismanages North Dakota but does a good job of pleasing residents of California and New York can count on near-eternal popularity at the federal level. As North Dakotans, we just don’t have the population to matter to anyone who has a sphere of control that covers the entire US. That would be the EPA.
Finally, in his last paragraph, he says this:
“Please notice that I am not taking a position on current proposals regarding regulation of our environment. That is up to experts in the relevant fields”
No, it isn’t. The air and water in my backyard doesn’t belong to the EPA, it doesn’t belong to the federal government, and it sure doesn’t belong to any damn self-styled “experts”.
The so called “experts” at the EPA tried to propose that cattle couldn’t kick up dust, and that any farmers with frisky cattle be subject to a $30,000 per day fine.
The “experts” at the EPA seem to think that we’d be better off not having lead bullets.
The “experts” at the EPA demanded diesel emissions systems that make our farm and construction equipment run hotter, break sooner, use more fuel, and cost more money to repair. That’s why a bunch of relatively new heavy equipment is running around with all of its emissions gear discarded.
I am not an anti-intellectual. I am sure that lots of people at the EPA are indeed experts at measuring environmental pollutants and studying their effects on humans. I bet they do good science, and I’m glad I can reference it when I make decisions.
But policy is more than just measuring pollution. The EPA may be experts on pollutants, but they are not experts on individual preferences. They may be able to accurately tell me that I’ll live 7 days longer if I stop using lead ammunition. But only I can decide if 7 more days of a life with expensive and underperforming ammunition is a trade I want to make. The may be able to accurately tell me that cars with 40hp engines are better for my respiratory system, but only I can decide that cars with considerably more horsepower are better for my soul.
My previous criticisms of Olsrud’s piece aside, the main problem, as a matter of principle, with Olsrud’s piece, is that he incorrectly assumes that the EPA has the pertinent knowledge, moral and legal authority, and motivating self-interest to make appropriate environmental tradeoff decisions for every family, home, and business in the entire US.
The EPA doesn’t know my preferences. It doesn’t have the right to tell me what I should want. And it is not motivated by what makes me happy, or even by what makes the largest number of people happy.
That’s the problem. That’s why more people are attacking specific policies of the EPA, and for some of us, the entire agency.
I’ll talk more about this in a future article.
For now, I’ll say this: There may be some very good arguments for keeping the EPA around and allowing it to run roughshod over the interests of North Dakotans – but Olsrud’s article didn’t provide those arguments.