‘What is a watershed assessment?” That’s what Edwin Henry wondered after the EPA suddenly and unexpectedly appeared on his farm in Blackman. His “environmental impact” was simply widening his cows’ drinking pond on his own property. No animals were harmed in the making of that pond—but Mr. Henry sure was. The damage: hundreds of thousands of dollars in compliance costs that didn’t help a single species or restore an acre of habitat. What a waste!
This happens every day across America. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, EPA compliance costs total more than three hundred billion dollars annually. More and more money is being spent in order to address smaller and smaller risks. The Office of Management and Budget rated the thirty least cost-effective regulations—the EPA created seventeen of them.
Unlike our environment, the EPA cannot be saved. One deputy stole nearly a million dollars. Others were busted for misusing funds to hire public relations consultants. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office found that the EPA was showing favoritism in awarding grants, not managing the performance of grants, and misappropriating funds intended for environmental restoration. Stanford fellow Dr. Henry Miller referred to the EPA as “relentlessly ideological, politicized, corrupt and incompetent.”
The EPA hardly has an enviable record protecting the vulnerable. In Flint, The EPA’s own inspector general confirmed that the EPA had the information and authority to act, but didn’t. This bloated bureaucracy took longer than a baseball season to lift a finger to help people who were being poisoned by corroded pipes and lead-filled water. The U.S. Commission on Human Rights issued a scathing report on the EPA’s environmental justice failures, noting that the agency “avoided pushing civil rights complaints alleging discrimination…for fear that the agency would lose such a case if challenged in court,” even when real discrimination was evidenced. Martin Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, put it even more bluntly when he said that “the EPA has failed miserably in its mandate to protect communities of color from environmental hazards.”
I’ve filed legislation to abolish the EPA by the end of 2018. To date, it is the most frequently viewed bill on Congress’s website. Our mission is to reimagine a modernized, more effective environmental protection paradigm, driven by commonsense national standards and well-resourced local enforcement.
The EPA budget is $8 billion. Much of this money filters through to states through joint programs, but far too much is spent on Washington-driven bureaucracy and endless studies. $27 million even goes to foreign governments, while environmental priorities at home languish.
As a former state legislator, I fought hard for—and received—a $1 billion state commitment to restore the Everglades. We will spend the money, but the greatest threat to some of our projects (such as improving water flow and protecting habitats) has been delays by… the federal government.
I imagine what states like Florida could do with funding for real, tangible restoration projects. We could quickly and efficiently improve the environment, instead of fighting against a federal government that never budgets, never keeps its commitments, and occasionally even gets in the way.
In 1970, when the EPA was created, many states lacked the necessary technology for thorough environmental research. The growth of major research universities, as well as the widespread availability of economical testing technology, have down-streamed the ability to execute on environmental priorities. Now it is time to down-stream the money. States will be more sensitive to their own unique environmental concerns without having to waste time, money, and manpower on compliance with trivial or inapplicable laws.
Of course, my legislation does not eliminate national standards such as those in the Clean Air Act & Clean Water Act. Both of these important laws provide concurrent state jurisdiction, criminal penalty, injunctive relief & civil fines, and will stay in effect. Swift enforcement actions can be brought by U.S. Attorneys, state Attorneys General, and even private interest groups such as the Sierra Club or Everglades Foundation under existing, uninterrupted law. Essential EPA functions can be addressed by various agencies, such as Interior, Agriculture, Justice, Energy, and Health. After all, the EPA was pulled piecemeal from these sources less than fifty years ago.
We need a fresh start so states can deploy more efficient environmental strategies. While our natural treasures will always be worth saving, the EPA isn’t. They’ve ignored congressional subpoenas, suffered mission-creep, and in the Gold King Mine, EPA workers botched inspections and released over a million gallons of liquid acid into the Animas river, turning it neon orange.
With a commitment to localized enforcement, rather than serving a sprawling bureaucracy, our states will be better stewards of our environment. With resources deployed directly into restoration projects, we can do more, and do it more quickly. And with a regulatory system that works, we can finally leave Mr. Henry and his cows alone.
Matt Gaetz serves the people of Florida’s 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives.