Energy & Environment

Myron Ebell is perfectly suited to lead the transition to a new EPA


President-elect Donald Trump has named Myron Ebell to head up his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The news was met with name-calling, even though Ebell agrees with the same position taken by a former top scientist with the Obama administration, Steve Koonin (formerly of Cal Tech) namely, that scientists simply do not know what fraction of observed global warming is due to manmade CO2 emissions.

Consequently, Ebell has expressed concern about EPA positions, including the Clean Power Plan. The EPA’s controversial power plan is based on an inadequate understanding of global warming and should not drive our middle class into energy poverty against congressional will.

{mosads}Based on my experience as the secretary of a State Environmental Department, here are some observations I’d like to offer Ebell for his consideration.

It is critical to understand that while the federal government, through Congress, establishes the overall goals of environmental protection through laws like the Clean Air and Water acts, the implementation of those laws is by state governments.

Consequently, America has made tremendous strides in environmental protection over the last decades. We are breathing cleaner air and have cleaner water than ever before.

State governments and their citizens have demonstrated the ability to implement programs that protect our environment without destroying the very thing that makes environmental protection possible: a strong economy.

Over the last eight years the Obama administration has abandoned this successful approach to environmental protection as envisioned by Congress. Instead, they have turned to special interest groups to drive centralized planning. Prime examples include the 2015 EPA Power Plan and the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. 

These rules contain illusory flexibility to states when in reality they represent a huge shift of control from states to the federal government. Even the current administration acknowledged that the power plan was symbolic and would do little to improve air quality.

The power plan would be expensive and shut down energy plants that have not yet been paid for, thereby stranding those costs with ratepayers. It would harm the industrial sector by significantly increasing electricity rates, which would throttle manufacturing industries that require low energy prices to compete.

Similarly, under WOTUS land use decisions would be federalized. Our nation’s agricultural industry would be hamstrung by costly and unnecessary land use restrictions, which would stifle growth opportunities. The expansion of manufacturing, commercial and residential development would be left to federal bureaucrats.

Fortunately, dozens of states and state agencies stood their ground against the federal government and won stays against these rules. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Supreme Court reached down into an appeals court to place the power plan on hold until the legal challenge against it could be resolved. The waters of the United States  (WOTUS) rule was also stayed. We hope the Trump EPA will review existing rules and base its policy decisions on sound data and measurable results. 

History has demonstrated time and again that just as “all politics is local,” so is environmental protection. State and local governments know best how to apply the many tools available to protect the environment and public health. In fact, states are responsible for the vast majority of enforcement and write nearly all the permits through which the private sector protects us and our environment. We still need the EPA, but not the EPA of the past.

Research should target specific problems and challenges. We need coordination on industry-level initiatives that cross state lines. However, we must end the idea that more regulation is automatically good and allow state and local experts, not Washington bureaucrats, to improve the environment. It is time to return to the cooperative federalism that Congress intended when writing these laws.

Returning control of our environment to the states also limits the dark money from self-serving lobbyists and deep-pocketed special interest groups masquerading as environmentalists. Almost every major rulemaking under the Obama administration was driven by a sue-and-settle scheme that is designed to allow special interest and federal appointees to write rules in private and exclude citizen involvement. This was evident by the EPA’s shameful use of secret emails whereby high-ranking EPA officials used fictitious email accounts to communicate with special interest groups to avoid the reach of public records.

A thoughtful and knowledgeable individual like Myron Ebell appears to be perfectly suited to lead the transition to a new EPA. His position on climate change is simply one example of his suitability. The EPA does play a role in environmental protection. However, that role, like all federal government, should be limited in order to maximize freedom.

Donald van der Vaart is the Secretary of North Carolina’s Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.
Tags Climat change Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency EPA Myron Ebell

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