Report: Devolve EPA to the States

Published October 23, 2014

Report: Devolve EPA to the States

By D. Brady Nelson

A policy document by Heartland Institute Science Director Jay Lehr argues the need for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has passed, and its responsibilities could be safely and better handled by an organization of representatives of the 50 states’ environmental protection agencies.

Lehr’s paper notes he was among those in the 1960s “drawing attention to mounting environmental pollution problems” and “call[ing] for the establishment of a national Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and in 1971 we succeeded.”

In the following years, he was “appointed to a variety of the new agency’s advisory councils and over the next 10 years [he] helped write a significant number of legislative bills that were to make up a true safety net for our environment.”

However, according to Lehr, the agency was soon captured by activist groups dedicated to a radical idea of preventing virtually any additional human effects on the environment:

“Beginning around 1981, liberal activist groups recognized EPA could be used to advance their political agenda by regulating virtually all human activities regardless of their impact on the environment. Politicians recognized they could win votes by posing as protectors of the public health and wildlife. Industries saw a way to use regulations to handicap competitors or help themselves to public subsidies. Since that time, not a single environmental law or regulation has been passed that benefitted either the environment or society.”

Loss of Credibility Cited

As a result, Lehr argues, the current EPA is a rogue agency, an almost wholly owned subsidiary of radical environmental lobbying organizations.

“The idea that Washington is the repository of wisdom and that state legislatures are foolish while Congress and Washington agencies are wise is laughable.” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “This from the folks who brought you the $17 trillion dollar federal debt, runaway entitlements, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Obamacare,” he added.

“Incremental reform of EPA is simply not an option,” Lehr writes, concluding, “the national EPA must be systematically dismantled and replaced by a Committee of the Whole of the 50 state environmental protection agencies.”

Lehr explains how that could be done: “[The] National EPA could be phased out over five years, with a one-year preparation period followed by a four-year program in which 25 percent of the agency’s activities would be passed to the Committee of the Whole each year. The Committee of the Whole would be made up of representatives from each state from each significant area of concern.”

‘Fever Pitch’ of Frustration

Responding to Lehr’s proposal, Elizabeth Letchworth, the first woman elected to serve as U.S. Senate Secretary for the Majority (Republican) said, “The frustration level among many members of Congress is reaching fever pitch when talking about the far-reaching regulations that have been implemented by the Obama administration. Many Capitol Hill experts will tell you that President Barack Obama has overseen a steady increase of far-reaching regulations since taking office six-plus years ago.”

Devolving EPA to the states would save billions in taxpayer dollars and improve environmental protection while reducing unnecessary and counterproductive regulation, Lehr notes in his study:

“Not only would this transition save large sums of money, but the efficiency and quality of environmental protection would be enhanced by placing power and responsibility in the hands of the individual states. It is, after all, well-known that government close to the location of the governed is best for all.… [T]hey will be far away from the beltway culture that corrupts public servants who come to the nation’s capital with even the best of intentions.… All that is missing is the political will.”

Environmental writer Bruce Walker agreed with Lehr’s argument, stating, “The EPA has become too powerful in asserting its will on U.S. businesses and the public at large with little to nonexistent accountability.”

D. Brady Nelson ([email protected]) is a Washington, DC-based neo-Austrian economist, writer, and speaker from Brisbane Australia and Milwaukee Wisconsin, and is a regulation policy advisor with The Heartland Institute.


Jay Lehr, “Replacing the Environmental Protection Agency,” July 15.2014: