State-Based Environmental Programs: A Better Way Than EPA

Published March 14, 2011

Federal and state legislators have recently been focusing on eliminating duplication of government programs that could be combined or eliminated to save billions of taxpayer dollars. Yet the elimination of one colossal duplication could save billions of dollars but has not been mentioned: Essentially all of the work done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is duplicated and in fact done far better by the collective wisdom of our 50 state environmental protection agencies.

EPA’s Original Purpose
When EPA was formed in 1971, with this author playing a forceful role in promoting the need for such an organization, its primary functions were to conduct research to determine needs for environmental regulation, promote such legislation in Congress, and then turn the regulatory programs over to the newly developing state agencies. For a while, it worked quite well.

Since then, however, EPA has become a wholly owned subsidiary of environmental advocacy groups and serves primarily as an obstacle course for economic growth. Moreover, the need for a federal EPA no longer exists. It is time to return power to the states.

States Are Capable
The states can and are doing all in their power to protect their citizens’ environment and health. They are doing so in a stringent manner, with state-specific environmental laws that often more stringent, and always better tailored, to state needs than EPA restrictions.

At least 80 percent of EPA’s budget could be returned to the people, with the remaining 20 percent used to strengthen the research laboratories that were once the focus of outstanding EPA environmental research. Today these research laboratories too often do the bidding of overaggressive regulators merely seeking to cherrypick data to support their predisposition to regulate.

Congress could still pass environmental legislation if it chooses, but it would be forced to define in detail what those regulations require. This is in marked—and beneficial—contrast to the current regime which allows EPA to decide what the law says and how it should enforce these laws.

The need for new environmental regulations can be left up to a committee of the whole of our outstanding 50 state environmental protection agencies. These agencies can decide which proposed regulations would benefit from interstate cooperation and which regulations would be better decided and implemented on a state-by-state basis. Perhaps the states might agree that a two-thirds majority would make any proposed regulations binding on all 50 states.

No Resemblance to Past
It has become quite apparent that EPA is no longer acting for the benefit of society in general. It was a great idea in 1971, but the agency bears no resemblance to that fine organization of long ago.

The current Congress is looking to make changes. This is a good place to start.

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