An Agency Drunk on Power Needs Detox, Not a Death Sentence by a Million Cuts

It’s no secret that the Heritage Foundation has been a dominant force in shaping the Trump Administration’s incoming team and policy reforms.  Linking here to the Foundation’s Blue Print For Balance, A Federal Budget for 2017 which includes ideas for cutting discretionary spending across the federal government, including the EPA.  The report does a deep dive into the bowels of agency spending – and yes, waste – identifying various programs that should be the target of cuts and elimination.

I’ve long supported the Foundation and have even contributed to a number of its reports, including the recent report titled Farms and Free Enterprise, A Blueprint for Agricultural Policy, authored by Daren Bakst and Nicholas Loris.  The Foundation does important work, advocating for less big-government and more free-market solutions.  All that is good.

However, while I wholeheartedly agree with reducing the size of government, cutting bureaucratic red tape, stream-lining permitting, and returning more of the problem-solving muscle to states and local communities, I take exception to a number of the proposed cuts and perhaps take greater issue with the logic of doing so.

Specifically, the report recommends eliminating research on climate change, reducing funding for research on sustainability and hydraulic fracturing, reducing funding for civil enforcement, eliminating EPA’s information exchange and outreach programs aimed at environmental education, closing the land and water conservation fund, eliminating national clean diesel campaign, eliminating environmental justice programs, and reining in EPA’s ozone standards.

As I cautioned my party faithful during a recent Hoover Institute talk on conservative environmentalism, the GOP must resist the temptation of its own overreach.  While I strongly support imposing greater fiscal discipline on the EPA, including getting back to core programs, many of the ideas outlined in this report are simply wrong and misguided.

For starters, robust enforcement of our environmental laws is fundamental to protecting the environment and public health.  Further, one of the agency’s core activities should be to continue funding and promoting environmental research and education.  Yes, funding for research should be based less on political agendas and more on pursuing objective science and positive environmental and health-based outcomes.  But funding research and education should and must continue as part of the agency’s business.

Lastly, killing environmental justice has become a rallying cry of many within the GOP and industry.  And while I agree EJ has been hijacked by some with a political agenda, as I’ve said many times before, it’s hard to argue against the rightness of fixing problems like basement backups and the flow of raw sewage into homes and protecting those living in low-income and minority communities from disproportionate impacts of air and water pollution and unsafe drinking water.  While many EJ issues are indeed caused by complex demographic and socio-economic factors, the EPA can and should work thoughtfully with communities and industry to help address these issues.

A Pruitt EPA can reform an agency that has become drunk on power and accustomed to overreach while simultaneously protecting the environment and public health, protecting individual liberties, and growing the economy.