Replacing the Environmental Protection Agency

Published October 22, 2014
replacing EPA Jay Lehr Heartland Institute

In 1968, when I was serving as the head of a groundwater professional society, it became obvious to me and a handful of others that the United States did not have any serious focus on potential problems with the quality of its air, drinking water, and surface water, and that the nation suffered from waste disposal problems and contamination from mining and agriculture. I held the nation’s first Ph.D. in groundwater hydrology, which gave me insight to understand the problems.

I was asked by the director of the Bureau of Water Hygiene in the U.S. Department of Health to serve on a panel to study the potential to expand the bureau’s oversight into a full environmental protection organization. Collectively, we spoke before dozens of congressional committees in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, drawing attention to mounting environmental pollution problems.

We called for the establishment of a national Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and in 1971 we succeeded. I was appointed to a variety of the new agency’s advisory councils and over the next 10 years I helped write a significant number of legislative bills that were to make up a true safety net for our environment. They included the Water Pollution Control Act (later renamed the Clean Water Act), Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (which, surprisingly, covered deep mines as well), Clean Air Act, Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Fungicide Act, and Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (which we now know as Superfund).

These acts worked well in protecting the environment and the health of our citizens, with the exception of Superfund, which proved to be too overreaching and wreaked havoc with U.S. business as companies operating within the law were fined countless dollars and required to pay huge sums after the fact for clean-up of waste disposal that had been within the law at the time of the activity.

Liberal Activists Take Over EPA

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.

The takeover of EPA and all of its activities by liberal activists was slow and methodical over the past 30 years. Today, EPA is all but a wholly owned subsidiary of liberal activist groups. Its rules account for about half of the nearly $2 trillion a year cost of complying with all national regulations in the U.S.1 President Barack Obama is using it to circumvent Congress to impose regulations on the energy sector that will cause prices to “skyrocket.” It is a rogue agency, the topic of books with titles like Regulators Gone Wild2 and Out of Bounds, Out of Control.3

For more than 20 years, I have worked to expose this story to the public, beginning with my 1991 book Rational Readings on Environmental Concerns,4 on which 50 environmental scientists collaborated to describe the manner in which their own fields had been hijacked and distorted to allow fear-mongering of an unconscionable nature. Other authors have discovered and have been working to expose this as well.

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