EPA Growth Knows No Limits

This op-ed was co-written by Todd Wynn at the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Last week, President Obama rolled out a climate plan fit for a king. In his speech at Georgetown University, the president declared that since Congress won’t enact climate policies, he’s just going to impose them — much as would a king.

Simply put, the president is using Congressional inaction as a pretext for a climate policy power grab, and that is very troubling. Alas, it is only the latest development in a worrying accumulation of authority at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A new American Legislative Exchange Council report, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Assault on State Sovereignty, reveals that the agency has been systematically centralizing environmental protection by seizing rightful control from the states and replacing local community input with extreme environmental activists.

Congress had a vision for national environmental policymaking when it created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. This vision was cooperative federalism, where the EPA and states would work together to effectively balance economic progress with environmental protection. During President Obama’s first term, however, the EPA initiated an outright regulatory assault on the American standard of living.

Under both the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, the EPA has the authority to “disapprove” a state’s strategy to meet national environmental standards. A regulatory disapproval is no small matter as state officials spend countless hours and taxpayer resources crafting plans to comply with a newly finalized EPA regulation. When the EPA issues a regulatory disapproval, the agency effectively throws all of this work out the window.

Since President Obama took office, the number of regulatory disapprovals has skyrocketed. Previously, the EPA issued 44 disapprovals during President Clinton’s second term, 42 during President George W. Bush’s first term and 12 during Bush’s second term. But during President Obama’s first term, the EPA issued an unprecedented 95 disapprovals — more than a 190 percent increase from the average number of disapprovals during the previous three four-year presidential terms.

Even more alarming is the precipitous increase in the number of EPA takeovers of state regulatory programs. “Federal implementation plans,” or FIPs, are the EPA’s most aggressive action, as a FIP entails the complete usurpation of a state’s regulatory authority. From 1997 through 2009, the EPA imposed only two FIPs. But since Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, the EPA has imposed 19 FIPs, representing a 2,750 percent increase in the number of FIPs from the average number of FIPs rate during the previous three four-year presidential terms.

These two trends illustrate a frightening picture of the growth of the EPA during Obama’s tenure in office. Centralizing environmental protection essentially imposes a one size fits all approach onto states that does not take into account the unique circumstances of each state and the effect of such regulations on hard working families.

Just as scary, the EPA is replacing American citizens and state regulatory officials’ input with environmental activist groups through sue and settle agreements. Here’s how it works: An environmental litigation organization like the Sierra Club sues the EPA for failing to meet a deadline for regulatory action. Instead of challenging the suit, both the EPA and the environmental groups immediately engage in a friendly settlement that determines a deadline. By dictating how the EPA should roll out environmental regulations, these settlements effectively render official policy without any input from elected officials at the federal and state levels.

During the three presidential terms prior to President Obama, sue and settle activity totaled 30 agreements. During Obama’s first term, 48 such agreements were settled, representing a 380 percent increase from the average sue and settle rate during those previous three four-year presidential terms. These agreements are fundamentally regulation without representation and are emblematic of a rogue federal agency with little accountability — which is somewhat unsurprising, given the Obama administration’s recent IRS, DOJ and NSA scandals.

The risks of the federal government’s recent power grab are severe. Individual liberties, political speech, and privacy are all at stake. With the EPA, not only are there are billions, even trillions of dollars of direct costs associated with its recent regulatory assault on American life, there is also a huge hidden cost: the loss of states’ rightful authority in environmental regulation and policy making. The EPA’s usurpation of states’ authority is yet another example of how the Obama administration has shifted rights away from individuals and states to unelected regulators and unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.