It Is Time to Trust the States with Environmental Protection

Published May 31, 2016

In early 1968 there was a desperate need for our nation to understand the degree to which our citizens were unwittingly befouling our beautiful Earth’s air, water, and soil. As a mechanism for doing this, a handful of environmental scientists, myself included, began to lobby Congress for the establishment of a federal agency that could set the tone for our states to begin increasing their environmental protection efforts.

Environmental Achievements
We succeeded in creating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. During the following decade we established seven major regulations which collectively would safeguard our environment.

The Clean Air Act eliminated our worst smog. The Safe Drinking Water Act has made our water safer for human consumption. The Clean Water Act dramatically improved the quality of our nation’s streams. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act established standards of safe waste disposal. The Surface Mining and Reclamation Act established environmentally friendly mining standards.

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act facilitated plentiful food production without chemical damage to our farmland, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, or Superfund, established funds and procedures to clean up the worst environmental transgressions.

Best of all during the 1970s, each and every state established its own environmental protection agency and went about educating its citizens about the need to protect their wonderful natural resources.

Costs Now Exceeding Benefits
I can make a strong argument, however, that little or nothing has been achieved by EPA since 1980. Yes, nearly all the federal laws I mentioned have been strengthened with tougher standards, but if space permitted I could argue that not a single one of these amendments could pass a cost-benefit test.

States Would Do Better
It is time to reconsider the role of a federal environmental protection agency. Just as we cede control of our children’s lives to our children when they reach adulthood, it is time to cede control of our environment to our state agencies. They have largely done an outstanding job and in no way have been delinquent in their duties.

Our state regulators live among us and hence have a better understanding of the problems that do exist. They can regulate more fairly and effectively than their federal counterparts.

As the EPA has grown into one of our largest enforcement agencies in both money and manpower, much of its budget could be redistributed to the states. EPA personnel could return to the individual states and serve the people in a more local, accountable manner.

As an end result, the American taxpayer would save money, environmental protection would be streamlined and tailor-fit to the individual states, and the health of our air, soil, and water would be preserved wisely and efficiently.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.