During the 2008 campaign, I was at a John McCain rally where he dampened the enthusiasm of a crowd of cheering Republicans by trying to defend his poll-tested global warming position thusly: "So maybe man isn't causing global warming. Here's how I look at it. Even if they are wrong, we invent new technologies and our kids inherit a cleaner environment — so what's the harm in that?"
That's probably the most common reaction from Americans when they hear conservative arguments about the Environmental Protection Agency's zealous strictures on American industry: So the rules make it a little more expensive for big business? Big deal. I don't want to be harmed by pollution.
In his lively new book, Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry, environmental consultant Rich Trzupek tells us exactly what the harm is by ripping off the cover of the nice-sounding rhetoric and exposing the bureaucrats terrorizing American job creators for the boobs they are.
In essence, Trzupek reveals that federal environmental regulations no longer focus on preventing harm to people. He explains the regulatory process has become more important than the results, eco-bureaucrats look on industry as the enemy of human health, fear has replaced science in the policy-making arena and — perhaps most importantly — the punishments handed out by regulators are almost always wildly out of proportion to the seriousness of the "crimes."
"We live longer than ever," Trzupek writes. "We pollute less than ever. Need anyone say more?"
Maybe not, but nobody is saying it. Politicians don't. Schoolteachers scaring kids into believing that if they don't recycle the world will someday look like the landscape in Wall-E surely don't. Environmentalists who should be crowing about their past clean-up successes definitely don't. As Trzupek points out, the professional greens "depend on the unlikely specter of impending doom for their financial health."
And the dominant picture of impending doom is global warming — or "climate change" as it's become known after the last few record-setting cold winters. It's no longer good enough to remove pollution in amounts that affect humans from the atmosphere; every molecule of carbon that enters the atmosphere is considered a threat to destroy the habitability of Spaceship Earth.
Unlike most authors of similar books, Trzupek is not an economist, but a scientist (chemist) who has spent his career working for sensible environmental regulations. He is not one of the usual libertarian suspects who contends that purely market solutions exist for keeping pollution levels low. He even argues that the Clean Air Act of 1970 was beneficial and successful (though I suspect the horror stories in Regulators Gone Wild could give ammo to conservatives who argued against it at the time since their slippery slope fears came true.)
But while the Clean Air Act of 1970, whatever its flaws, sought to regulate harmful toxins as a public health matter, Trzupek writes, "Instead of considering what we should do, legislators [in 1990] decided to expand their vision to what we could do."
As Trzupek drily notes, "Toxicity is a matter of dose, as sober scientists have observed since ancient times." But the combination of green fever and the impossible pursuit to cut pollution levels to zero have led regulators to try to make emissions from factories cleaner than what occurs in nature itself.
On the other hand, I'm not sure I want the EPA to recognize Trzupek's truth that the pollutants put out by tailpipes dwarf what is put out by any large industrial sources. I like my car's internal combustion engine. But as important as this is to recognize, it also falls into the usual arguments over environmental regulation and how much is too much. Trzupek's less usual arguments are far more damning and demonstrate the unintended consequences of overzealous regulations.
Trzupek tells several stories of business owners hit with huge fines although, even by the EPA's standards, they are hurting no one and following good cleanup procedures. In one case, a company did not notice in the mountain of paperwork it received from the EPA (resulting in the deaths of Lord knows how many trees) that a particular reporting procedure had changed. Although the firm was in complete compliance with its emissions, it missed a paperwork deadline and was smacked with crushing fines.
In another case, the EPA regulations were so stringent and inflexible that the agency insisted on practices that actually created more pollution than the method the business owner would have employed.
But Trzupek's most ironic point — in a book filled with them — is the fact that by declaring war on American industry, the EPA has driven factories overseas, where they are allowed to pollute far more freely and thus contribute even more to "climate change." If nothing else, consistency should demand that the EPA do what it can to keep industry here, not to mention the fact that we need private sector economic growth to pay for all these public employees and bureaucrats.
And according to Trzupek, under President Obama, Lisa Jackson's EPA has undertaken its mission with a zeal that makes previous administrations pale by comparison.
Among his recommendations, Trzupek proposes that a public health standard be established that aims to eliminate truly dangerous doses of toxins, not attempt to scrub the detectable presence of poisons from the environment. His boldest idea is to break up the EPA into state agencies that would be more flexible, accountable and — fingers crossed – sensible.
Regulators Gone Wild is a succinct and compelling read. Trzupek may be a scientist, but he writes with a storyteller's eye and the wit of a good polemicist. This book is a great antidote to the "what's the harm?" fallacy.