Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Year End Review: EPA Friend or Foe?

Here is a quick summary of some of the US Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory activity in 2014. The EPA is the one of the GOP's favorite targets and attacks against this agency are destined to increase as even more Republicans flood the House and assume control of the Senate. In light of the seeming endless barrage of threats from the right, some Americans may be asking whether the EPA's activity serve the American interest. Detractors would point to the fact that EPA enforcement actions last year required companies to invest more than $9.7 billion. So What have Americans gained from these expenditures? Reduced air, land and water pollution, as well as the forced clean up of contaminated sites. Even more importantly the EPA's action preempts far greater levels of irresponsible business practices.

According to the EPA’s annual enforcement and compliance results, there were $163 million in combined federal administrative, civil judicial penalties, and criminal fines.

The agency's regulatory activity translates to the elimination of 141 million pounds of air pollutants (including 6.7 million pounds of air toxics), and approximately 337 million pounds of water pollutants. Their activity also resulted in the cleanup of an estimated 856 million cubic yards of contaminated water/aquifers.

One of the Republican's primary criticisms of the EPA's regulatory efforts is that they add costs to companies that pollute. If measured solely by their impact on the profits of a handful of companies than Americans may think that the GOP's obsession with undermining the EPA is partially justified.

In practical terms the issue is determined by whether companies like DuPont, with revenues of more than 26 billion in the last year, should be allowed to release harmful levels of hazardous substances. Do Americans believe that DuPont has the right to kill one of their own employees through their own dereliction. Finally does the EPA have the right to demand enhanced risk management operating procedures?

Likewise, do Americans believe that Anadarko Petroleum Corp and its subsidiary Kerr McGee corps has the right to pollute some 2,000 sites with nuclear fuel, wood creosote and rocket fuel waste. Should they be allowed to contaminate water with fracking chemicals? Does the EPA have the right to demand Kerr McGee cleanup their toxic air and water pollution, and remove dangerous materials?

Simply put the EPA's regulation of toxic air, ground and water pollutants translate to fewer sick and dead Americans now and in the future. The EPA's new coal restrictions alone will save an estimated 6,600 - 34,000 lives. Even if we factor in the costs of enforcement and look at the equation from a purely economic point of view, the logic of the EPA's action to regulate the coal industry are irrefutable.

According to an NRDC analysis the benefits of the new power plant rules in saved lives, reduced illnesses, and climate change avoided, far outweigh the costs (representing a savings of $21 billion to $53 billion).

If measured against a reduction of death, disease and climate change causing emissions, the EPA has done exactly what it was mandated to do. Even if measured on purely economic terms they are providing an admirable public service.

An honest assessment reveals that the GOP's criticisms are unjustified. The GOP should be exposed for what they are, corporate mouthpieces who use their power to make a mockery of the EPA's mandate and the right of Americans to clean air, water and soil.

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