WASHINGTON, D.C. — Anglers and boaters do not need the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), right? What do federal administrators know about local boating and fishing issues?
This is the spirit of a current proposal to eliminate the EPA, with at least one federal legislator claiming the management of environmental issues are best left to local states, sans support from Washington, D.C.
Of course there are many EPA-backed or supported programs benefiting anglers and boaters, so perhaps an all out ban of the federal agency might be too much too soon. Completely ridding ourselves of the EPA because its challengers and skeptics argue the agency’s policies are one-sized-fits-all and, at times, overbearing might not be the most viable long-term solution.
The EPA is certainly not infallible, but certainly a middle ground could be found. There must be some way to balance federal oversight of environmental protections with state or local level management of its lands and waters. Federal oversight and state management of environmental policies do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Nonetheless a representative from Florida recently proposed doing away with the EPA entirely.
H.R. 861 – Abolish the EPA
The move to permanently do away with the EPA, which was created by Pres. Richard Nixon in 1970, is currently the focus of House Resolution 861 (H.R. 861), which was introduced by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz on Feb. 3. His three co-sponsors – Reps. Barry Loudermilk, Thomas Massie and Steven Palazzo – are from Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi, respectively.
The quartet of Republican lawmakers pushing H.R. 861 claim abolishing the EPA supports states’ rights. H.R. 861, if passed and signed into law, would eliminate the EPA entirely by Dec. 31, 2018.
Gaetz, in a live video posted on his Facebook page, said federal programs are one-sized-fits-all and have failed states.
“For six years in the (state) legislature, I had a front row seat to the failures of the federal government in protecting the environment. The question isn’t whether to protect the environment. The question is who is better equipped to actually do that,” Gaetz said in a Facebook Live video produced for his constituents.
The freshman legislator from the Florida Panhandle said his bill, while proposing to do away with the EPA, would not abolish federal protections for clean water or clean air.
“I got a lot of questions from folks on social media and email asking whether or not the abolition of the EPA would mean that we wouldn’t have clean water or clean air. That’s simply not true,” Gaetz said in his video message.
Gaetz positioned himself as a “conservationist at heart” who believes environmental programs should be decided at the local level, not Washington, D.C.
“I am a conservationist at heart. I think that as a conservative every once in a while you should want to conserve something. It’s one of the reasons why as a state legislator, I voted to secure more than a billion dollars in funding for our Everglades, to be able to restore water flow and habitats and environment for some of Earth’s most special creatures and one of the great areas of biodiversity that we have,” Gaetz said.
Interestingly enough the legislation included a provision for state-federal partnership to restore the Florida Everglades.
The introduction of H.R. 861 was also preceded by a request from a St. Petersburg, Florida lawmaker to have the EPA investigate recent deaths of nearly two-dozen pelicans in Tampa Bay.
Pres. Donald J. Trump’s administration, in a separate move, announced a series of executive orders would be issued to reshape the EPA. Details of what changes would be included within each order was not made available.
EPA and California
Abolishing the EPA could have serious repercussions in California. Just last year the EPA invested $182 million in California to fund clean drinking water, wastewater infrastructure and water pollution reduction programs.
California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) receives grant funding from the EPA. The DTSC in turn uses the grant funds to implement copper reduction programs at local harbors and marinas.
State projects, aimed at promoting marine uses of clean diesel engines, were also eligible for EPA grant funding.
Beyond funding the EPA also establishes and regulates marine engine standards, which helps protect water quality.
In 2014 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and EPA worked with California agencies to restrict use of an herbicide threatening endangered salmon and steelhead trout.
Two years earlier the EPA prohibited any vessel from discharging vessel sewage into California’s marine waters.
“Even treated sewage can contain pathogens, nutrients and other contaminants that affect human and environmental health, and economic productivity. Prohibiting large vessel sewage discharges provides additional protection of California’s marine water quality,” EPA staff stated in the March 2012 regulation.
How would these programs be affected by abolition of the EPA? Would California be able to fund its environmental programs or grants on its own? Would states in general not have any access to federal funds to assist in well-intentioned public policies? These questions (and potentially others) must be fully vetted before determining the fate of the EPA.
House Committee Hearing: States’ Rights vs. EPA
Of course the EPA’s involvement with California and other states has been not always been praised. In fact publications such as The Hill, Wall Street Journal, Fox News and The Federalist Papers claimed the EPA either caused California’s historic drought or did not assist the state’s farmers who were in dire need of assistance in light of severe water shortages.
In September 2015 the House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources held a public hearing to address allegations of overreaching federal policies preventing the governors of Montana, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming from managing their respective energy, land and water resources amidst severe drought conditions.
“States have significant responsibilities for the condition of land, air, forest, wildlife, and water resources, as well as energy and mineral development with their borders. These responsibilities promote and perfect the development of local expertise that cannot be replicated by federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) stated during the hearing. “Yet, the federal government frequently ignores such expertise, opting for a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation, and gives short-shrift to the states’ own regulatory actions.”
A hearing memo stated federal mismanagement of certain lands resulted in an increase of invasive species and catastrophic fires.
“Long-term federal mismanagement of Western national forests has led to overgrowth, an alarming increase rise in invasive species, and proliferating annual catastrophic fires,” the hearing memo stated.
Some states allege federal regulations do not promote partnerships with stage agencies and increase litigation activity.
“Federal over-regulation represents an ongoing threat to western states, as it has diminished federal-state partnerships, and led to increasingly harmful regulatory decisions and a proliferation of litigation that adversely impact the states’ statutorily-defined jurisdictional roles and economies,” the hearing memo continued.
The memo also acknowledged tension between federal oversight, and states’ rights has existed since the nation’s founding.
“Since the founding of the United States, there has been an inherent tension between the role of the federal government and the states,” the hearing memo stated.
One example cited in the hearing memo of federal overregulation was a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to regulate fracking on federal and Native American lands. States argued the federal decision did not factor in input from local experts and state regulations already in place.
BLM officials, however, stated the final rule was complementary to state regulations and was based upon substantial public input. More than 1.5 million comments were submitted during a 210-day public comment period, according to the final rule.
“The BLM reviewed and analyzed these comments based on thoughtful analysis and robust dialogue, which resulted in a rule that is more protective than the previous proposed rules and current regulations,” the final rule stated. “It also strengthens oversight and provides the public with more information than is currently available, while recognizing state and tribal authorities and not imposing undue delays, costs, and procedures on operators.”
Federal officials stated its final rule would protect water supplies and ensure fracking operations were managed “in an environmentally responsible way.”
The final rule also required fracking operators to “provide public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.”