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In Defense of the EPA

For anyone not concerned with Scott Pruitt’s confirmation as head of the EPA today:

Well written laws are never enough. Without correct enforcement, laws are meaningless. For instance, automobile speeding laws mean nothing if they are no cops to enforce them.

U.S. environmental laws were enacted to address real issues. These laws ensure safe drinking water and breathable air, limit pollution and hazardous materials, and protect species and ecosystems. These laws affect human health, both short-term and long-term. The EPA is responsible for enforcing the majority of these laws.

The EPA was founded by a Republican President: Richard Nixon. (As for Nixon’s motivations, well, that’s a discussion for another day.) But the establishment of a government agency solely dedicated to protecting the environment was groundbreaking. Same with the earlier idea for setting aside national lands for environmental protection and public enjoyment. And same with enacting legislation for the protection of water, air, land, and imperiled species. These are the ideas that we gave the world.

Most departments have ambiguous names. In most cases, we assume that a department advocates for its namesake. For instance, we assume that the Labor department is pro-Labor. (Yes, the reality is commonly different.) But with the EPA, there is no ambiguity. It’s named the Environmental Protection Agency for a reason.

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt sued the EPA seven times and repeatedly called for the dissolution of the agency. Pruitt has several close ties with private industry, most notably the fossil fuel industry. This is the new public servant formally in charge of advocating for the environment (and for us).

Then again, as we have seen numerous times in the past. The easiest way to undermine any effort is through internal hinderance, preferably from the top. We saw this happen with the Department of the Interior during the Reagan years (James Watt) and again during the Bush years (Gale Norton). Unfortunately, due to the enforcement nature of the EPA, along with the growing number of additional anti-environmental actions taken by the administration and by Congress, the stakes are significantly higher this time.

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Posted: February 17, 2017

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