January 19, 2012

Defending the indefensible

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney

In his environmentalist apologia for the Enviromental Protection Agency (EPA) entitled “EPA, job killer or people saver?” journalist LZ Granderson seeks to rehabilitate EPA from recent criticisms and attacks.  The thesis of Mr. Granderson’s piece is that, because our water and air quality have improved since EPA came into existence in 1970, it therefore follows that (1) EPA is the cause of this improvement, and (2) criticism of EPA is unfounded.  Poor Mr. Granderson—oh so wrong, and in so many ways.

First, simply because our water and air quality have improved in the last 40 years, and that EPA has been around for the same length of time, is no reason to conclude that EPA is the cause of such improvement,.  A classic logical fallacy is post hoc ergo propter hoc, i.e., simply because one things follows another in the order of time does not mean that the thing follows in the order of causation.  After all, the Beatles broke up in 1970, but do we ascribe our ecological advancements to the fact that Paul and Ringo no longer warble together?  Absit.

Second, even assuming that quantifiable environmental improvements have occurred solely because of EPA, it does not follow that EPA is beyond criticism.  The old saw that Mussolini made the trains run on time proves the point.  That is to say, an objectively bad thing can occasionally produce good results, but that does not change the fact that the bad thing remains bad.  What many Americans legitimately object to is that EPA abuses its mandate and instead of protecting the environment in a balanced manner seeks to infinitize certain supposed ecological values while aggrandizing bureaucratic power, leaving innocent landowners the victims.  Indeed, just ask Mike and Chantell Sackett, whose homebuilding project EPA has put on indefinite hold but who have been denied an opportunity to contest EPA’s “filling in wetlands” allegations in court.  Or ask the people of the South Mississippi Delta, who have been denied the flood control protection that Congress has promised for the last half-century, because EPA thinks that it knows better than Congress which federal water projects should go forward.  Or ask the thousands of truckers and construction companies throughout this country whom EPA threatens to put out of business through greenhouse gas rules that have not been vetted by EPA’s own blue-ribbon panel of experts.  For all these folks, it’s not about thwarting environmental protection.  Rather, it’s about the virtues of limited government and calling to account an agency out of control.

Third, Mr. Granderson assumes that simply because EPA regulations allegedly produce some good, they are therefore justified.  But this approach fails to acknowledge that the value and utility of all laws must be based on the laws’ overall impact:  just identifying occasional benefits cannot justify a law if on balance the law creates much more harm than good.

No one wants a polluted environment, and we all want a strong economy.  But we shall never know what remedies the one and supports the other using Mr. Granderson’s skewed metric.

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