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Inside the House Bill That Would Close Down the EPA

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Energy & Environment
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U.S. President Donald Trump has made no secret of his mission to slim down government oversight of business. Some supporters in Congress, however, don’t think that mission goes far enough.

Last week, a little-known junior representative from Florida dropped a bombshell when he submitted a bill to defund the Environmental Protection Agency. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican, submitted the bill on Feb. 3 after circulating it among his peers and asking for co-sponsors.

Gaetz says small businesses are “drowning in regulations” and “cannot afford to cover the costs associated with [EPA] compliance.”

In a leaked email that was later published in the Huffington Post, Gaetz asserted that the burden of adhering to environmental regulations often led to more than just higher operating costs; it resulted in “closed doors and unemployed Americans.”

Gaetz’s bill, if passed, would abolish the EPA by 2018 and turn over environmental rule-making to state governments. Doing so, he proposed, would “create more effective and efficient regulation” of environmental protection polices.

His appeal has attracted the support of three other congressmen, all who have track records of opposing the EPA's regulatory oversight, particularly when it comes to controlling the impacts of climate change.

Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-Miss.) is best known for his support of an Americans for Prosperity pledge opposing a “climate tax” and his opposition to the EPA’s effort to regulate greenhouse gasses.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), who asserted his view against "federalism" in a recent tweet: “[The Georgia Environmental Protection Division] would do much better at protecting the environment than a big D.C. bureaucracy.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has voted on a number of recent efforts to strip the EPA of its environmental oversight, including votes to repeal key environmental rules put in place to protect water sources and air quality. He sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, one of three committees currently reviewing Gaetz’s bill.

Pundits who weighed in over the past few days say it’s unlikely the bill will pass. Similar efforts last year failed to gain enough traction to even make it to a vote.

Still, the effort to dismantle the EPA speaks to a larger argument over who will protect local resources, and what “environmental protection” really means in agriculture-rich states like Mississippi, Florida and Georgia, as well as coal-producing areas like Kentucky.

But it may be a far stretch to say some states have done -- or could do -- a better job at regulating environmental adherence than the federal government, as Loudermilk suggests. It’s often the partnership between federal and state agencies that bring about the best results, such as in the 2001 case which found Dalton Utilities in violation of the Clean Water Act as well as Georgia’s own EPD regulations.

Collaboration is also needed when it comes to multi-state violations where broader federal laws allow states to show the much larger impact of damage, such as in the 2009 EPA case against Invista for violations in seven different states.

But then there are situations like what has played out in North Carolina over the past few years concerning Duke Energy’s coal ash spills, suggesting state regulation doesn’t always work when the regulating agency is reluctant to prosecute and enforce compliance.

And the environmental history of Gaetz's home state speaks to that fact as well. According to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, the state was home to seven different environmental polluters on the EPA’s watch list in 2011. It's also residence to more than 90 superfund sites, some 50 of which are still in the process of being closed down.

These statistics beg the question: If Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is up to taking on this role, why hasn’t it before now?

Gaetz is right when he says there is cost associated with changing the way that businesses operate. Studies show that there is an initial price to implementing sustainable measures like curbing pollution, protecting water sources, and addressing leaks and spills. But he doesn’t go far enough on this topic. According to a brief by the nonprofit Sustainable Prosperity, the cost of regulatory adherence is often overestimated.

"Inaccurate cost estimates can lead to a number of problems, including a misinformed public, questionable integrity of the regulatory system, inability to secure public and political support for the policy,” said the authors, who point out that there can be a real downside to that overestimation. “Most importantly, inaccurate cost estimates can lead to sub-optimal design of environmental policy.”

The bill to close down the EPA has a ways to go before it can reach a House and Senate vote, if it ever does. But the implication that the nation’s most valued resources could do without federal oversight makes President Trump’s financial cuts for the EPA seem like a preferable second option. And for those businesses and cities that count on EPA input, that’s truly a scary thought.

Image credit: Flickr/I Love Mountains

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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