Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
The Environmental Protection Agency is one of our nation's most important organizations -- it's responsible for protecting our water and air from pollution. The EPA is the reason our rivers and lakes aren't contaminated, and our cities aren't choked with smog. The agency does a job no company could effectively do -- protect the natural commons -- due to the fundamental nature of the market economy. And the EPA does an admirable job of protecting the environment in the omnipresent face of corporate interests -- but evidently, it's not a good enough for Newt. Newt Gingrich, onetime Speaker of the House and probable presidential candidate, has just called for the entire EPA to be abolished. From his website, Newt Direct:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has transformed from an agency with the original animating and noble mission of protecting the environment into a job-killing, centralizing engine of ideological litigation and regulation that blocks economic progress at every turn while also frustrating the EPA's original mission of protecting the environment ... The EPA's activities have gone well beyond protecting the environment; instead, the EPA is focused on centralizing and asserting unlimited federal power over the economy.It's become en vogue to bash the EPA as some job-killing, freedom-destroying bureaucracy. This is mostly because big companies don't like adhering to environmental standards -- they don't like having to pay to upgrade their equipment to make it emit less pollution, they don't like being fined for discharging pollutants into public waterways. Who would? And these companies have helped capitalize on the Tea Party's fear of government takeover by using the EPA as a proxy for some kind of socialist overreach.
The EPA should be replaced with a new and improved agency dedicated to bringing together science, technology, entrepreneurs, incentives, and local creativity to create a cleaner environment through smarter regulation.
See, Newt proposes to replace the agency with something called the Environmental Solutions Agency, which would promote using free-market principles to help the environment. The problem is, that simply doesn't work. There are currently no incentives for companies to avoid environmentally destructive behavior -- besides EPA regulations and fines. And it's next to impossible to provide the free market with an incentive to take care of the commons like our natural resources -- other than government regulations -- since so few people profit from not spewing as much harmful pollution or not dumping toxic waste into wilderness streams.
The NRDC makes this point in a post on the EPA a few months back:
No one really believes that polluters will just clean up all by themselves. People understand that you have to set standards that will protect public health and make sure polluters stick to them. That's why since its founding, the EPA's approach of setting standards and holding polluters accountable has prevented:What's more, as Joe Romm points out at Climate Progress, we already have an agency that does exactly what Newt wants, "that develops innovative new technology -- it's called the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy."
* 205,000 premature deaths
* 672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis
* 21,000 cases of heart disease
* 843,000 asthma attacks
* 189,000 cardiovascular hospitalizations
* 18 million child respiratory illnesses.
With the absence of the EPA and environmental regulations, unpopular and unsexy though they may be, there would be nothing to stop corporations from polluting at will -- and the US public would be those made to suffer for it.