D. Dowd Muska


Will the Next President Embrace Eco-Truth?

January 07, 2016

If the 45th president is a Republican, one of the most useful services he could perform would be a reality check on the environment.

Just about everything Americans “know” about pollution is wrong. The epic degree of ignorance, the Heritage Foundation’s Diane Katz writes, stems from a constant stream of “outright falsehoods on the state of the environment by those who profit economically and politically from peddling doom and gloom.”

Katz’s “An Environmental Policy Primer for the Next President” proclaims an inconvenient truth: The 1970s are over. It’s a half-century since “America’s foundational environmental statutes” -- the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act -- were enacted. (Five of the six, it should be noted, were signed by GOP presidents.)

The laws remain on the books. And the regulatory behemoths they spawned live on, despite remarkable improvement in pollution reduction. Between 1970 and 2002, “aggregate national emissions” of the primary air-fouling substances “dropped an average of 72 percent, while gross domestic product grew by 219 percent.” Lead has all but disappeared from the atmosphere, with carbon monoxide (85 percent) and sulfur dioxide (80 percent) next on the extinction list. Nitrogen dioxide is down 60 percent. Ozone and particulate matter have plunged, too.

Forests are not in danger, and the “rate of wetland loss is in decline.” Energy efficiency is improving, and “unsustainability” has been exposed for the lie it always was. (“[T]he price of almost all natural resources -- from cocoa to cotton to coal -- is cheaper today in real terms than 50, 100, or 500 years ago. This resource abundance exists despite increasing demand from the growth of global population.”) Perhaps best of all, “Americans are living longer than at any time in history -- 81.2 years for women and 76.4 for men. Centenarians, in fact, are now one of, if not the, fastest-growing segment of the population.”

It’s a stunning success story; progress that no one is working to reverse. But Washington pretends it hasn’t occurred. Katz argues persuasively that the federal government’s “command-and-control regimes have led to massive, ineffective, and unaccountable bureaucracies.” Change is long overdue. Reforms must be “based on conservative principles and fundamentals of good governance: Market incentives are more effective than government diktats; sound science fosters sound policy; and most important, citizens are far better stewards of the environment than the government will ever be.”

Recent administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, have expanded “environmental” mandates, but President Obama stands alone on unnecessary red tape. His EPA “issued 30 major regulations, which the government estimates will increase regulatory costs by more than $57 billion annually (in addition to one-time implementation costs of more than $7 billion).” More is coming, including “a stricter standard for emissions of ozone -- although the existing 2008 standard has not been fully implemented,” and the Clean Power Plan, a scheme that “effectively bans construction of coal-fired electricity-generating units.”

In 2012, Heritage outlined eight principles of “The American Conservation Ethic.” Katz restates the concepts in her paper. The best holds that “natural resources, such as air, water, and soil, are not fragile and static but resilient and dynamic, and respond positively to wise management.” Others include the recognition that people “are the most important, unique, and precious natural resource,” the critical role of property rights in pollution deterrence, and environmental management founded “on a site- and situation-specific basis.”

State oversight and private-sector efforts, Katz avers, are preferable to the “centralization of regulatory power in Washington.” Diversity would permit a shift away from “the federal government’s emphasis on ‘inputs’ rather than results.” Such rewarding of “compliance rather than innovation” makes “monitoring and enforcement … secondary.”

To the extent that D.C. remains relevant, Congress, a serial composer of “vague environmental statutes” and chronic delegator of “regulatory details to unelected bureaucrats,” needs to reestablish its proper role. “[N]o major environmental regulation should be allowed to take effect until Congress explicitly approves it.” Sunset dates are another promising reform, with automatic expiration for directives not “reaffirmed … through the formal rulemaking process.” And deep-pocketed “environmental” groups, which “routinely sue federal agencies to compel regulatory action,” must be put in their place. Transparency should be brought to a process that frequently produces settlements made “behind closed doors.”

With the Democratic Party in the thrall of eco-alarmism, it will be up to a GOP president to tell the truth about the environment -- and take action to undue decades of unsound policymaking.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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