Return the EPA to the states

Return the EPA to the states
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Forget about #abolishICE. Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittIs Big Oil feeling the heat? Overnight Energy: EPA delays board's review of 'secret science' rules | Keystone pipeline spill affecting more land than thought | Dems seek probe into Forest Service grants tied to Alaska logging EPA delays advisers' review of 'secret science' rules MORE’s resignation provides an opportunity for President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report MORE to do something bold that will better protect the environment and help D.C. run more efficiently: return the powers of the EPA to the states.  

I have defended Pruitt’s effectiveness and still stand by the claim that his elimination of many regulations has helped the energy industry grow without sacrificing the environment. According to the Department of Labor, there are 3,000 more coal miners employed now than in 2016. Crucial pipelines like Keystone and Dakota Access are providing thousands of jobs and securing America’s energy independence when global unrest has caused energy prices to spike. 


We can have a robust energy sector and a healthy environment. Localized government is the best guarantor of both. 


The more than 1,300 Superfund Sites, those areas with hazardous material that require long-term investments to clean up, would be better addressed by governors with state-level enforcement powers, state-level resources, and state-level personnel. Shipping these serious environmental disasters to Washington has not hastened their remediation. Pruitt himself identified 21 sites that have lingered for decades.  

As an agency, the EPA employs more than 14,000 people and has an annual operating budget of over $8 billion. A 2016 Inspector General Report found evidence of millions of dollars in waste and theft, and thousands of unaccounted man hours of labor.

Reallocating these funds and personnel to each governor can better address issues of toxic waste, water contamination, and air quality than maintaining a large, career bureaucracy in Washington.

Under the previous administration, the EPA became a weapon to attack the energy industry. What the Obama administration was unable to achieve through legislation they implemented through regulation, thus explaining the ease with which Pruitt demolished the Obama era environmental policies during his tenure. The EPA attacked companies producing oil, gas and most of all, coal. All while superfund sites — which are the very core of the EPA’s mission — remained unaddressed.

A coal mine owner in Kentucky told me every week a new regulation would arrive with a mandate to shut down operations until they could comply. The tax burden didn’t disappear, nor did payroll and insurance for his workers.

As they adjusted to comply with the new regulation, zero coal production meant zero income until an EPA inspector could recertify their mine for operation. The financial toll would mean worker layoffs. Once allowed to reopen, another regulation would arrive, and the process would repeat itself.

Finally, after years of this back and forth of ever-changing regulation, the mine closed permanently, laying off hundreds of people. Across the county, coal miners to machinists to coffee shop owners found themselves unemployed.

The EPA was no longer protecting the environment; it was destroying compliant companies in rural American communities for ideological reasons. This is weaponization of government — and it must not happen again. 

Returning the power of environmental protection, regulation and enforcement to the states eliminates the threat from an out-of-control bureaucracy. In addition, federal or interstate regulations should be handled by the Department of Interior. Just as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and its $1 trillion budget is housed within HHS (and administered at the state level), so too should the regulation of environmental protection be housed within DOI (and administered at the state level). This would also address President Trump’s call to shrink the size of the federal government.  

We must be champions of the environment, and make sure our water, air, and soil are safe from pollutants and kept pristine for us now and for future generations. We must make sure our laws set standards and safeguards, and that the full force of government is used to ensure all people and companies abide.

We can do this and continue to respect the men and women who work in our energy industry, who drill for the oil and gas and who mine the coal that each and every one of us use every day. Returning the power of the EPA to the state, and realigning those federal needs into an already existing Cabinet agency can protect the environment, respect the workers, and eliminate the risk that past EPA Administrators, Scott Pruitt included, use their power for anything other than good. 

Daniel Turner is the executive director of Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Follow him on Twitter @DanielTurnerPTF.