American Elephants

EPA Zealots Are Off On Another Corrupt Power Grab. by The Elephant's Child


Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, and the Clean Water Act in 1972. Who is going to vote against clean air or clean water? The problems arose, as so many problems have, in the Congressional habit of writing broad bills and leaving the details to the concerned agency to develop. In this case the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went to work to sort out the particulars, which they have, with a vengeance.

In the 1970s there were problems. Los Angeles was more frequently blanketed with a thick yellow-brown smog than with the few stray days when you could see mountains in the distance. The Cuyahoga River caught on fire. In some places sewers emptied into rivers or lakes. People hadn’t given much thought to the environment as such, for Mother Nature seemed to be taking care of it pretty well. But then Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb, insisting that mass starvation was just around the Malthusian corner, and Rachel Carson came up with Silent Spring, terrifying everyone of DDT and all pesticides, unfortunately for the millions of children in Africa dying of Malaria.

Zealots are always looking for a place where they can indulge their zealotry, and they seem to have flocked to the EPA. The Agency has something over 17,360 full-time employees (as of 2011), and unsurprisingly during the recent government shutdown, most of them were regarded as non-essential. Tasked to make the air clean and the water clean, they have opted for purity instead, with no understanding that purity is impossible and not desirable anyway.

In the interest of clean air, the agency tried valiantly to regulate farm dust, which no one at the agency seemed to recognize as improbable, as dust is part of the nature of farming. Farms are places with dirt roads, plowed and tilled fields, which is how farming is done.

The Clean Water Act charged the agency with keeping the navigable waters of the United States clean. What Congress probably had in mind was shutting down any sewers emptying improperly and keeping the boats from dumping oil and stopping the Cuyahoga River from catching fire. In many places the water naturally contains some methane. Not harmful to people, but it can catch fire. There was the big arsenic flap where some springs were found to contain arsenic in what were presumed to be dangerous quantities. The EPA made a nationwide regulation determining how every municipality would be required to treat their water to remove any trace of arsenic. Many communities had no arsenic in their water, but the agency demanded expensive water treatment anyway. In the case of safety for humans, many things that are poisonous in large quantities are perfectly safe in small quantities. The rule is always “the dose makes the poison.”

If you have been incensed over low-flow shower heads, blame the EPA for trying to “save” water. If you have been irritated with “high-efficiency” toilets that have to be flushed twice, enormously expensive “high-efficiency” washers and dryers that seem not to get clothes clean, blame the EPA. If you have obediently purchased “Energy Star” appliances only to find that they aren’t saving energy, welcome to the club.

mountain_stream Back in May, 2011, I wrote a post about the “EPA Using Clean Water Act To Seize More Power,” and chose a picture of a small mountain stream to illustrate the EPA’s stretch of the term “navigable waters” to grab more authority. In June of 2012, I wrote another post about their attempt to re-define “navigable waters” to include snow-melt and the run-off after a rainstorm, pictured in the roadside gutter above. The term “Navigable” means that boats can go there.  In 2006 a U.S. Supreme Court case from Michigan produced five different opinions and no clear definition of which waterways were covered and which were not. This left the government with a clean slate to write its own interpretation — everything they wanted to regulate.

Now they have done it. The EPA  has packed a government advisory board with federal grant recipients so  they can regulate virtually every acre in the United States, probably including your back yard, should you annoy them.

The EPA’s proposed rule — the  “Water Body Connectivity Report” removes that limiting word “navigable” from “navigable waters of the United States” and replaces it with “connectivity of streams and wetlands to downstream waters” as the test for Clean Water Act regulatory authority.  Whoa! Change a few words to add a meaningless science buzzword to grab for power— “connectivity.” They cannot quantify the significance of the runoff from your driveway, or the puddles on the lawn, but if they get away with this, if you annoy the administration, they may come after you for destroying wetlands. Everybody’s yard here becomes a wetland in the winter — this is Seattle.

Anybody remember the Supreme Court case Sackett v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency? A couple in Priest Lake, Idaho bought a small piece of land to build their dream home with a view of the lake, when the EPA descended on them, declaring the lot a “wetland.” The Supreme Court  slapped down the EPA, but Zealots are not restrained by mere court rulings. They have been slapped down repeatedly by courts all over the country and it hasn’t slowed them down at all. They tell themselves that they are protecting the health of the people, but they blithely make up statistics to prove that they are  doing so. Every rule will be accompanied with numbers deaths from various causes that have been prevented by their rulings.

Fortunately two powerful members of Congress have noticed and demanded in a news release to know why “EPA skirts the Law to Expand Regulatory Authority.” The Chairman of the House Science , Space, and Technology Committee, Lamar Smith of Texas, and Rep Chris Stewart of Utah, chairman of the environment subcommittee have written to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. They accuse the EPA of “pushing through a rule with vast economic and regulatory implications before the agency’s Science Advisory Board has had an opportunity to review the underlying science.”

The EPA says its rule-making will be based on the final version of the Science Advisory Board’s (SAB) scientific assessment. The SAB is paid to verify whether the EPA  report is technically accurate. The law requires that the SAB must be free of conflicts of interest, unbiased, and transparent. “Transparent” is not doing too well in this administration.  The SAB does not do science. They just review a review. The EPA Office of Research and Development has conducted a scientific literature search, picking useful studies for review by the SAB.

The board is stacked with those who are recipients of EPA grants, government agencies and academia. No industry-friendly scientists were allowed by McCarthy to be on the board, although there were plenty of candidates from important industries. No hard-headed state or local water officials were included, despite nominees from Arizona, Missouri, North Carolina, Wyoming and New York City.

The EPA tries not to leave things to chance. Zealots are not easily restrained.

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[…] 2013, they were going for a proposed rule—the “Water Body Connectivity Report” which removed the limiting word […]


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