Bipartisan Politicization of EPA

Environmental organizations have been unrelenting in their criticism of the Trump EPA.  Most of the criticism is because agency biases that favored their positions are being corrected. Politicizing EPA didn’t begin in 2017 and it won’t end anytime soon unless Congress acts responsibly, which is not likely.

The most recent criticism is EPA’s decision to allow 15% ethanol in gasoline year-round is an exception.  There is no environmental justification for increasing the ethanol percentage in gasoline.  Indeed, there is no justification for requiring ethanol.  It has always been a payoff to the farm lobby.  In the case of the 15% mandate, EPA is attempting in part to offset the damage of the President’s wrong-headed tariffs and trade war with China.  The major reason is pure 2020 politics.

Criticism of the agency’s roll back of the Obama CAFÉ rule, its revised guidance for committee membership, and changes in how health benefits are measured are actions that simply correct abuse by EPA during the Obama years. Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy took politicization of the agency to new levels. 

CAFÉ, a response to the 1973 oil embargo, was intended to boost miles per gallon so that cars would use less gasoline and emit fewer pollutants. Using CAFÉ as an instrument to reduce CO2 emissions was a tortured interpretation of the Clean Air Act made possible by a bad Supreme Court decision. Congress had previously decided against using the Clean Air Act to regulate CO2 emissions.

Changing the guidance for participating on EPA committees corrected an abuse that had been going on for years.  Recipients of EPA research grants were put on committees where they would be judging their own work and the work of fellow committee members. The unwritten understanding among committee members was you don’t criticize my work and I won’t criticize yours. Conflicts of interest were rampant.

EPA models, research, and assumptions were all biased to produce worst case results and justify over regulation.  There is no basis in science for the “one hit” model or using epidemiological research to assert small health effect benefits that are beyond accurate measurement.  A computer modeler who left the agency during the Obama years pulled back the curtain on how regulations were being justified.  He summarized his perspective this way, “I realized that my work for the EPA wasn’t that of a scientist …It was more like that of a lawyer. My job, as a modeler, was to build the best case for my client’s position.” 

EPA has a long history of being politicized by its pandering to environmental organizations and by promoting regulations that centralize control in Washington.  Its credibility has been eroded by subservience to the environmental lobby.  Since most of the major environmental problems that justified the creation of EPA have been solved or on their way to being solved, it is time to restructure EPA’s mission.  It should focus on research, being totally transparent, providing guidance to states for achieving regulatory or legislative requirements, and being an information resource for environmental compliance.Cabinet level departments and agencies should be subjected to independent reviews every 15-20 years as a way of shaking up the bureaucracy and making sure that their missions are aligned with important national priorities

Author: billo38@icloud.com

Founder and president of Solutions Consulting which focuses on public policy issues, strategic planning, and strategic communications.

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