President Donald Trump took a lot of criticism when he nominated a long-standing critic of the EPA named Scott Pruitt as the chief of this agency. This does not mean that Pruitt does not care much about the environment, as many Democrats have insinuated. As the Attorney General of Oklahoma, he worked with his counterpart in Arkansas to arrange for the study of the water quality of the portion of the Illinois River that runs along their mutual border. His past criticism may simply mean that he prefers to manage the EPA in a way that balances the needs of the environment with the needs of private organizations that often bear the brunt of unreasonable and contradictory regulatory codes.
Trump Puts EPA in His Sights
Now Republicans in the House of Representatives such as Matt Gaetz (R-FL) are asking whether the EPA is even necessary for the protection of the environment. Matt Gaetz has sponsored H.R. 861, which will terminate the EPA by the end of 2018 if it passes. Democrats may take note that at least Scott Pruitt won’t be in charge of this agency anymore. However, they are now saying that it does not matter who the chief of the EPA is because this agency is necessary to protect the environment.
Is The EPA Really All That Necessary?
American consumers are becoming more aware of the impact that their buying choices have on the environment. If given a choice, they will usually buy cars that get better gas mileage and food that is grown in an environmentally and socially responsible matter. The problem here is that hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius are often more expensive than cheaper gas guzzlers. Food that is advertised as “organic” or otherwise natural and environmentally friendly also tend to be pricier. Then the issue isn’t that there isn’t demand for these products. The issue is that the demand tends to boost the price.
The answer to this problem isn’t necessarily more regulation. Businesses usually face the choice between finding a way to pass the cost of complying with new regulations on to the consumer (and fines if they are caught cheating) or going out of business. That means it doesn’t help the consumer for the EPA to require that all new cars meet minimum gas mileage standards if it pushes up the cost to corporations and consumers to the point where consumers can only afford a used car that may not have been very well maintained and therefore gets a lower gas mileage.
It also doesn’t help to regulate the food industry in a way that forces it to throw away unsold food and make it inedible by dousing it with bleach. New York forces vendors to toss perfectly good food for no greater reason than that it was displayed more than four feet from the store front. This is no joke when it’s estimated that almost 25% of New York City’s children do not have enough food to eat and local food banks are rationing what they can give to poor families. This is one example of the ways that regulations and city codes lead to food waste and increased food prices while the impoverished can’t afford proper nutrition.
France had the right idea when it required grocery stores to donate unsold food to charities or send it to farmers to be used as livestock feed. Gordon Ramsay might lambaste chefs who look like they’re just not trying, but one project he’s tackled lately is creating fancy meals out of food waste that would otherwise be thrown out. This sort of thing is more environmentally friendly and socially responsible than regulations that force vendors to throw out food.
EPA regulations are unlikely to change the amount of demand for food, energy and transportation when “demand” is measured by a population’s desire to obtain a product and not its ability to pay for that product. These regulations make the production and distribution of products meant to fill this demand more costly to vendors and the end user.
While it might make sense for a business to make its operations more efficient and less wasteful (and thus reduce its impact on the environment), it should do so because it makes the business more attractive to the consumer and better able to make a profit by streamlining its operations. A natural gas company should buy one of Pioneer Energy’s Flarecatchers, not because it’s being forced to by the government, but because it reduces the amount of usable natural gas that is lost during the extraction process. That natural gas can then be turned into energy and sold, which reduces waste and increases the company’s profits.
Could This Bill Be A Negotiating Ploy, Though?
H.R. 861 is unlikely to pass in the form that it exists in right now. This may be an opening salvo on the part of Republicans who may be willing to negotiate to reduce the EPA’s most costly, contradictory, unnecessary, and economically harmful regulations. There is, of course, a difference between regulatory codes that are costly, contradictory, unnecessary, and economically harmful, and ones that are effective in protecting both the environment and the rights of the consumer in ways that are easily absorbed by the economy.
Doing this probably won’t reduce the EPA’s effectiveness, especially when one considers cases such as the Flint water crisis, in which poor decisions on the part of the city and state governments and lack of a meaningful response from the EPA led to dangerous levels of lead in the city’s water supply. While some officials will face charges for their part in the crisis, residents claim that government agencies such as the EPA still aren’t doing enough to address the issue. So it becomes a case of why the government shouldn’t terminate an ineffective agency, or at least reduce its power over the U.S. economy.
So this bill may get attention for the extreme position of terminating the EPA altogether, but it also gets the attention of Democrats who complain about the appointment of someone who isn’t a complete EPA fanboy to head the agency. While the bill works its way through committees and is likely modified in the process, Pruitt can focus on following Trump’s reasonable directive to eliminate two regulations for every new one that is proposed so that businesses will be less likely to be impacted by old, contradictory regulations that never really go away. That means businesses can increasingly take on the role of courting socially and environmentally customers in a way that ensures that more of those customers can afford their products because they aren’t bearing the costly brunt of unnecessary regulations.
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