EPA: Mission Creep on Steroids

Iron Eyes Cody, the faux-Indian of the Keep America Beautiful ad campaign, had a point.

In the 1960s, our environment was a mess.

I can remember streams full of suds from non-biodegradable detergents. Litter was a big problem everywhere. The air in major cities ranged from blue to grey to brown. There were two high-profile oil spills, one in California and one in Louisiana. The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire.

As the hippie-driven Whole Earth movement crested, the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency was formed in July, 1970.

Over the last 40 years, things have improved. The air and the water are cleaner. And the EPA deserves some of the credit. But even more credit must also go to the thousands of companies and millions of individuals whose environmental attitudes have changed.

EPA’s attitude has changed, too. No longer content to live within the confines of the legislation which defines its mission, EPA has embarked on an unprecedented bureaucratic power grab by reinterpreting the rules, redefining its mission and its authority.

In forty short years, EPA has morphed from an agency with a well-defined, popular and worthy mission to one whose bureaucratic ambitions are not limited to controlling and cleaning up the environment. The goal of this regulatory octopus is the control of the entire industrialized economy of our country.

As Iain Murray writes in a Washington Times opinion piece titled EPA’s Ginormous Power Grab, EPA has built upon its greenhouse gas ‘finding’ (that GHGs contribute to global warming and thus constitute a hazard to public health) using an interlocked, four-pronged strategy:

  • Encourage California and other states to adopt nonstandard fuel-economy requirements.
  • Expropriate the authority of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in setting fuel-economy standards for the auto industry.
  • Take the lead on setting U.S. climate and energy policy.
  • Administratively amending the Clean Air Act (“tailoring” is the term of art) to make the Act workable for CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases it was never meant to regulate.

By granting California the power to ignore federal fuel-economy standards, the EPA created a regulatory patchwork that imposes significant burdens on the auto industry.

This led to the White House brokering a deal whereby the EPA muscles in on the NHTSA’s statutory authority to regulate fuel-economy standards, something for which the EPA has no statutory authority.

The EPA claims this then compels it to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, thereby making it the effective arbiter of national climate policy – even as Congress debates what to do about the issue.

Even the EPA seems to recognize the absurdity of the resulting regulations under the language of the Clean Air Act – which would lead to the EPA having to issue permits for fast-food franchises and large apartment buildings to emit greenhouse gases – so the agency took upon itself the power to tailor statutory language, thereby playing lawmaker, to avoid the regulatory debacle which it itself had put in motion.

And that, dear reader, is why conservatives don’t trust bureaucracies.

Cross-posted at VladEnBlog.