Proposed EPA budget cuts have activists in dither over wrong issues and imaginary problems
President Trump’s proposal to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency’s $8.1-billion budget by $1.6 billion was cut to an $80-million trim in the omnibus spending bill. However, the EPA funding and staff controversy will undoubtedly resume during the next budgetary battles in September.
That’s fueling consternation and con jobs in the heartland. According to press releases, funds for cleaning up the Great Lakes, eliminating lead poisoning, stopping oil pollution and “ensuring justice” for affected groups are “on the chopping block.” Community leaders, government officials, academics and activists will therefore meet May 10-11 in Chicago for a Freshwater Lab Summit, to “engage the public” and map out strategies for preserving Obama environmental staffs, budgets, programs, policies and priorities.
Women, minorities and low-income communities often “bear the brunt of environmental degradation,” say conference organizers, who plan to emphasize “rights” to clean water, “regardless of race, wealth or class.” Speakers include mayors, opponents of oil pipelines and exporting Canadian water to the United States, proponents of sustainability and “environmental climate justice,” and an expert on the role of water sharing and management in “peacemaking, diplomacy and economic equality.”
The summit promises to be lively, somewhat informative, certainly politicized, and likely to energize more of the resistance, rallies, recriminations, rabble rousing, rage, rants and riots that have dominated the U.S. political scene since the November 2016 elections.
Here are a few thoughts that speakers and attendees might want to consider, but most likely will not.
As I’ve noted previously, since EPA was created in 1970, America’s air and water quality have improved dramatically, to the point where most serious pollution concerns are rare and isolated. Cars have eliminated 98% of the pollutants that they emitted 47 years ago. Coal-fired power plants now remove 80- 90% of the mercury, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates and other dangerous substances that used to come out of their stacks. Factories and paper mills have done likewise with air and water emissions.
However, as our laws, technologies, and changed corporate and citizen attitudes resolved most of the chronic environmental problems of yesteryear, EPA and the environmentalist movement set new agendas and priorities. They became ideological, politicized and determined to control what Congress, the states and citizens never intended them to regulate: lingering traces of air pollution, climate change, our entire energy and economic infrastructure, and nearly every rivulet, puddle and other waters of the USA.
The Obama EPA also engaged in illegal experiments on humans; when their results proved that microscopic soot particles are not deadly, the agency ignored the evidence. It also claimed plant-fertilizing carbon dioxide “endangers” America and must be slashed by de-carbonizing and de-industrializing the US economy, under the agency’s Clean Power Plan and social cost of carbon scheme.
It held “listening sessions” in Chicago and other cities where abundant college and other activists could easily testify, but affected miners, factory workers and farmers would have to travel hundreds of miles – and then have their stories and concerns ignored by the regulators. They simply became Collateral Damage in a war on coal and affordable energy that brought green energy poverty to millions.
In the mostly former steel town of Middlebury, Ohio, jobs and people moved out, as dependency, despondency and drugs moved in. In September 2016, this city of 49,000 had 30 heroin overdoses in one week. Many factors played a role in the decline, but EPA’s regulatory warfare was clearly one of them.
Meanwhile, Flint, Michigan’s drinking water was laced with lead, because EPA, state and local officials were too distracted to safeguard what Chicago summiteers view as a basic right to clean water. Prevention and repair funds were spent on climate change and other agendas. Fixing this serious health problem is a high Trump EPA priority; the funds are not going to be deleted, as summit organizers claim.
Out in Colorado, EPA-supervised contractors unleashed a toxic flashflood from the Gold King Mine, contaminating river water for hundreds of miles. EPA waited an entire day before notifying impacted communities. It refused to provide adequate compensation and never punished anyone.
Will the conferees offer compassion and demand environmental justice for all these regulatory victims? Will they demand accountability for the inexcusable derelictions of duty by irresponsible regulators?
When they call for action to block more pipelines, will they even mention that new pipelines are needed to bring oil and natural gas from new fields to refineries and petrochemical plants that provide the fuels and products they use every day? That new pipelines are needed to replace aging pipes that could spring leaks? Or that pipelines are much safer than railway tanker cars and tanker trucks on our highways?
Will summit speaker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett explain the millions of gallons of untreated wastewater and sewage that his city still discharges into Lake Michigan every year?
In the context of “drastic” budget and personnel reductions proposed for EPA, will the “unprecedented coalition of mayors and community advocates” meeting in Chicago discuss the fact that EPA simply will not require so many people or funds, now that it won’t need a massive bureaucracy to control US lands, waters, farms, factories, energy and economic development, to “stabilize” Earth’s ever-fickle climate?
Staff and funding will still be more than adequate to clean up the Great Lakes, monitor and address drinking water and sewage problems in our cities, ensure that oil and gas pipelines are built and operated safely, and enforce factory and vehicle compliance with pollution standards. Fewer funds and personnel will simply be reallocated from the grand schemes of the Obama years to real remaining problems.
Will the conference recognize that federal regulations alone cost $1.9 trillion per year – prior to the regulatory tsunami of the Obama Administration’s final three months? The eight-year Obama era alone generated over $800 billion of those annual regulatory burdens. EPA alone was responsible for well over $350 billion of the overall bill, based on 2012 data from just the first four years of the Obama presidency.
These regulations – combined with countless thousands of criminal offenses embedded in them – impose an enormous burden on every business, industry, state, community and family in the United States. They are an incalculable drag on job creation, economic growth, family budgets, and the ability of families to meet medical, nutrition, rent, mortgage, college, retirement and other needs. They have an acute and disproportionate impact on poor, minority, single parent and blue-collar families.
They deprive people of their basic civil rights and environmental justice, often for few or no benefits.
Conference participants, community leaders, lawmakers and regulators should worry less about saving the planet, and more about doing their jobs and keeping little problems from becoming big ones. Less about exaggerated, fabricated climate risks, and more about actual pollution and joblessness risks. Less about rights and demands – and more about personal and shared responsibilities.
They should especially emphasize what kids and adults must do to succeed in life: Stay in school, study hard, graduate. Minimize drug and alcohol use. Don’t join gangs or become unwed teen parents. Get and stay married. Be parents, not just sperm or egg donors. Get a job, be on time, work hard, learn new skills, and parlay that experience into better jobs. Save for college or to move into a better neighborhood. Play a positive role in making your current home, neighborhood and school cleaner, safer, better.
President Trump’s election was an equal and opposite reaction to the excesses, abuses and failures by previous administration. Yes, elections do have consequences. The Trump election has brought new visions, agendas, directions and policies for America: rolling back costly, excessive, intrusive regulations; reducing tax burdens; devolving more power and responsibility to states and cities; telling federal agencies to focus on actual remaining problems that should be handled at that level; and persuading more people and communities to take greater responsibility for their own success or failure.
These changes will help bring jobs, opportunities and prosperity back to America. They deserve a fair hearing at the Chicago summit and elsewhere, in civil conversations that truly involve all affected parties.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org), and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death and other books on the environment.