Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ditching EPA

If those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, then those who ignore history are determined to do so. Dallas Morning News columnist Dale McFeatters recently described the efforts of 16 senators who are trying to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.

As he points out in Return With Us Now to Those Pre-EPA Days (Nov. 25), some of the senators -- such as Sen. Orin Hatch -- should know better. The EPA was proposed and approved by President Richard Nixon precisely because a patchwork of local environmental rules (often none at all) had failed to protect both human health and the environment, and market forces showed no signs of doing any better.

The powers of the agency may seem draconian when described in the abstract, but in cases such as Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York -- where Hooker Chemical filled a ditch with thousands of tons of toxic waste -- the ability to regulate, penalize, sanction, and purchase or seize property proved essential, just a few years after Nixon's creation of the agency.

Toxic waste in a residential neighborhood.
Photo: AEG
Love Canal is admittedly an extreme case, but hardly an isolated one. The EPA has caused hundreds of similar sites to be cleaned up and returned to productive use, while continuing to monitor hundreds of others. Meanwhile, during the presidencies of Clinton and George H.W. Bush, the agency greatly streamlined its regulations and improved its ability to cooperate with the industries it regulates as it works to prevent similar disasters. Without the onerous authority granted by President Nixon and the Congress in 1970, however, Americans would not enjoy the level of environmental protection we now enjoy.

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