The EPA’s Unchecked Agenda

Member Group : PA Manufacturers' Assn.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the leading bad actor in what American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Scholar, Benjamin Zycher, calls the "metastasis of the executive branch."

Zycher, and other policy experts, say that the agency is accelerating a power grab through an aggressive regulatory agenda with dubious or scant benefits to the environment. Thousands of jobs will be jettisoned as businesses, especially manufacturers, try to cope with billions more in compliance costs.

One EPA proposed change centers on the definitions of solid waste and recycling under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a move that the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) says is utterly unnecessary; actually discouraging recycling while increasing landfill dumping.

The EPA is also developing rules that would exponentially expand its authority over the nation’s waterways by re-defining what constitutes "navigable waterways" under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The EPA says it’s only "clarifying exactly what should be considered Waters of the United States (WOTUS)." This "clarification" will bring countless additional waterways under its authority, even including temporary bodies, glorified puddles, of waters that appear after a heavy rainfall.

"Under the proposed changes, even most ditches will now be under the EPA’s jurisdiction," said Darren Bakst, Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy at the Heritage Foundation. "The proposal completely runs roughshod over the principle of cooperative federalism that is supposed to cover water regulation where the states are meant to play a central role."

Chip Yost, NAM’s energy and resource policy expert, said that the precise additional costs are still unknown since they haven’t seen final proposed language, but in general the new rules will result in a dramatic reshaping of the regulations governing a variety of activities and permits under the CWA. They would require manufacturers to obtain permits for activities and locations that are currently not required. Moreover, experts worry that complex and ambiguous language being used will create unachievable moving targets.

"Manufacturers will be looking at hiring more consultants and attorneys to deal with the additional red tape," Yost said. "Businesses have enough to worry about without an entirely new layer of regulations and additional permits."

On the solid waste, Yost said the EPA is seeking to impose additional burdens when there is no evidence that the existing recycling regulations are creating environmental problems. NAM comments earlier sent to the EPA on the proposed solid waste changes: "The EPA is precipitously and without justification re-opening a rule-making that concluded in 2008 after years of work among many stakeholders over several administrations (the "2008 DSW Rule", 73 Fed. Reg. 64668, Oct. 30, 2008), as well as numerous pre-2008 rule-makings that established valid recycling exclusions and exemptions over many years… EPA’s proposal to reverse key elements of the 2008 DSW rule and impose new regulatory burdens on recycling activities conducted pursuant to the pre-2008 recycling exclusions will discourage recycling, increase the land filling and incineration of otherwise useful secondary materials, and increase the use of natural resources and energy."

The environmental benefits of the proposed regulatory changes are at least as spurious as the proposed rule change to reduce carbon emissions; the costs to business will be at least as profound. The EPA’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants, in particular coal-fired plants, to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The changes will have virtually no impact on even the most progressive imagination of the extent of global warming.

The United States is only a small part of the global carbon-emissions picture; accounting for only a sixth of global emissions, and emissions have fallen the past few years more than those of any other major country. Yet the economic impact on the coal industry from the new rules will be widespread and devastating. Especially in Pennsylvania.

"The power the EPA has seized has far surpassed the authority granted to it by Congress," said PMA Executive Director, David N. Taylor. "Continuing to move the regulatory goal posts not only makes it more difficult and expensive for manufacturers to comply, but it will put some out of business. This turn of the screws by the EPA is not justified by science, public health, or any measurable societal good."

There’s no end is sight unless Congress acts, Zycher says. "Congress should debate and vote on regulatory changes as they would other pieces of legislation," he said. Otherwise the agency will continue to expand its influence. "People don’t realize that bureaucracy is a hugely powerful special interest group," Zycher said. "The EPA can pursue its ideology and increase its power without the constraint of markets. "

Zycher added that the sue/settle syndrome gives the agency an excuse to grab even more power when it loses the suit. "Losing a legal action, say, to the Sierra Club for missing a deadline gives them even reason to ramp up enforcement," he said.

Bakst of the Heritage Foundation says that debate on what constitutes navigable waters would be an ideal place for Congress to start. "Congress should be debating what falls under the EPA’s jurisdiction," he said. "They’re the ones who answer to the voters."

(Legislation is expected imminently in the House that would block the EPA from changing its regulations covering the nation’s waters.)