Energy & Environment

Attempting to rein in the EPA

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Dare to reform the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and you are sure to be attacked. It’s as certain as death, taxes or EPA regulatory overreach.

Case in point: Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) recently introduced a bill to address egregious EPA waste and abuse. Immediately, he was denounced as trying to “gut” the agency. In reality, Johnson’s bill is a modest attempt to keep the EPA from gutting the economy and wasting taxpayer dollars.

The Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act of 2015 takes on some specific and serious problems. It would prohibit the agency from using funds to issue a new ozone standard. States have just begun implementing the latest standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb), which was issued in 2008. Now, the EPA wants to make the standard even more stringent.

{mosads}When nearly 40 percent of the nation’s population lives in areas that haven’t met the current standard, it’s premature to adopt an even more stringent standard. It would be exorbitantly expensive, too. The National Association of Manufacturers argues that if the standard is dropped to 65 ppb, it would be the single costliest regulation in American history.

And the benefits of a tighter standard are far from clear. Much of the alleged benefits the EPA ascribes to a stricter standard have nothing to do with an actual reduction in ozone. Rather, it cites benefits accruing from reductions in fine particulate matter. Moreover, the agency’s limited analysis fails to account for the relationship between health and wealth. Lost jobs and less disposable income are not just economic costs; they can lead to significant health problems, particularly among the poor.

Stopping an agency from rushing forward with a historically expensive regulation doesn’t gut the agency. Yet some media reports have gone so far as to claim Johnson’s bill would stop the agency from regulating ozone. This is wrong. The agency will still be able to regulate ozone, just as it does now under the existing standard.

The legislation would also prohibit funding for numerous greenhouse gas regulations and programs. For example, it would prohibit funds being used to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from electric utility generating units.

When Congress passed the Clean Air Act, it never envisioned that carbon dioxide would be regulated. After all, life wouldn’t exist without it. The potential economic implications of carbon dioxide regulation are staggering. It would drive up energy prices, which would in turn ripple throughout the economy. Lower-income families and individuals would be harmed the most, because a greater share of their income goes to meeting energy costs. And, the regulation would yield no measurable environmental benefit.

If the EPA is allowed to push through these jobs-crushing regulations, it will, at best, be able to boast a climate benefit of a few hundredths of a degree Celsius abated warming by the turn of the century. Sound like it’s worth it?

Only Congress should be able to make the decision to impose such drastic and harmful regulations; it shouldn’t be left to unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats.

Johnson’s bill also eliminates wasteful programs. For example, a 2013 report by the EPA Inspector General (IG) noted that the agency leases large amounts of underutilized space. The bill would require the agency to get rid of the space. This simple step — hardly a knife to the throat of the EPA — and could save taxpayers up to $21.6 million annually according to the IG report.

Johnson’s bill poses no threat to the EPA continuing to wield too much power. Indeed, it would still leave the agency able to overregulate and diminish the rightful roles of states and individuals in protecting the environment. What is on the table is a narrow legislative vehicle to address serious problems. Instead of letting the EPA run amok, it gets rid of some wasteful programs and uses the power of the purse to regain some control. The legislation may focus on EPA waste, but it is also about Congress getting off the sidelines and reasserting its power.

Bakst is a research fellow concentrating on agricultural and environmental policy for the Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. Loris is the Heritage Foundation’s Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow, specializing in energy and environmental issues.

Tags Clean Air Act Environmental Protection Agency EPA Ozone Sam Johnson Wasteful EPA Programs Elimination Act of 2015
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