We’re from the EPA and we’re here to help

May 15, 2010

It’s difficult to tell whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is helpful or harmful to society. I suppose that depends on your perspective. When the agency was created in 1970 under the Nixon administration, there were definitely some environmental issues that needed attention, problems such as lakes catching fire in the industrial cradle of the U.S. Then, of course, one idea led to another and now we have an agency that knows no boundaries.

It’s astonishing how this agency has grown. At the outset, EPA had a budget of $1 billion and 4,000 employees. Since that time, it has grown to a 2010 budget of $10.3 billion and 17,417 employees in just 40 short years. In 1977, EPA reached its lowest point, with only a $500 million budget, which was 20 percent of the 1976 budget, which tells us that at some point, it was indeed possible to shrink a federal agency drastically.

It is really obnoxious the amount of money this outfit dishes out for some purposes. I get their daily press releases, so perhaps I’ve become a bit jaded about how they spend our money. In recent months, they have been working very hard on job creation and are spending wildly on a variety of issues that are intended to put people to work through vague projects that appear to have very little benefit to society other than redistributing wealth. If you just spend a little time on their website, you’ll get the idea.

They are also a very punitive organization that has been allowed to expand their interpretations and definitions of the various laws they have been tasked with enforcing.

From where I sit, they are more economically harmful to our country than they are environmentally beneficial. Sure, we all want clean water and air, and we don’t want people or companies trashing the environment for a buck. And, in the short time I’ve been around, the environment is much cleaner than it was in the ’60s and ’70s. But it hasn’t all been EPA. Technology has been a boon to efficiency and industry while assuring that we pollute much less. Environmental quality is more of a byproduct. The benefit of industrial technology has perhaps had more impact on a cleaner environment than anything else. At least that’s the way I see it.

There is not much I see they have done to help agriculture. Economics plays a bigger role than EPA regulations do to make agriculture more efficient. And efficiency in agriculture has played a major role in a clean environment. There is plenty of data to support that statement.

EPA is feared by businesses more than almost anything else. Getting a visit from EPA is more nerve shattering than getting a visit from the Internal Revenue Service. It seems that most companies that get those visits from EPA simply want them to go away and will do just about anything to get them to leave. Just view the penalty actions posted on their website.

Last week, we received a story about our friends at Agri Beef in the Northwest. They had an issue with water management at their Toppenish, WA, meat processing facility. The headline of the story read: Washington meat packer pays $750,000 to settle alleged water violations. The company will also invest $3 million to resolve alleged waste water issues. The complaint filed with the settlement in federal court said that Agri Beef violated the Clean Water Act on numerous occasions between 2003 and 2009, and alleged they were discharging partially treated wastewater in to nearby waterways without a permit.

What they were doing was dumping partially treated waste water back into an irrigation system that went to irrigate local farm ground, a process that they had been doing for years, which had been customary for a long time. But it’s less expensive to simply do what EPA wants and mark it up as a cost of doing business.

That is just one simple item that popped up last week. As we all know, EPA has had concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) on their radar for quite some time despite the fact that CAFOs are already highly regulated. EPA’s recent declaration that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant is very problematic for agriculture, as are the new ambient dust standards and waste management requirements the agency is working on.

EPA has no incentive to be concerned about economic impacts on any issue they pursue. They have demonstrated little concern about the impacts of their enforcement on business. EPA is a powerful agency and it’s clear that President Barack Obama knows it. At this point, EPA has the ability to pick the winners and losers in any industry. It’s time the agency has its wings clipped and its authority hemmed in. — PETE CROW