By John J. O’Grady
When Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, she captured the heart of a movement among ordinary citizens concerned about the world in which they found themselves living. They witnessed the devastating impacts of acid rain, dying lakes, foaming streams, flaming rivers and valleys filled with steel drums of chemicals. Americans were concerned for their future, as well as that of their children and grandchildren.
After a 30-year career at the Environmental Protection Agency, I find myself in the awkward position of having to justify the agency’s merits. The EPA is not an undisciplined bureaucracy of waste, fraud and abuse, as congressional partisans and their dirty industry donors would have you believe. Today’s EPA is staffed by dedicated Americans who do not set policy but rather implement statutes passed by Congress.
Today’s federal workforce must be free to perform “the people’s work” free of political interference. Firing at least 20 percent of the agency’s talent pool — as President Trump’s 2018 budget proposes — is unacceptable. It is absurd to think that public servants who defend our right to breathe clean air, drink pure water and live in safe communities would be vulnerable to an austere budget ax. Further, cutting EPA’s staff and budget hurts veterans, since more than 30 percent of federal employees are vets. The agency is already at bare-bones levels.
Big-polluters, special interests and some zealous elected officials would shutter regional EPA offices and labs and force them to consolidate. Those same ideologues deny science and the innumerable economic advantages and health benefits we all enjoy from current environmental regulations. A December draft report from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) showing the costs and benefits of EPA regulations was removed from Trump’s site and relegated to President Obama’s archives.
American taxpayers receive a significant return on their investment from the EPA. According to the OMB report, EPA regulations produced on average $9 in benefits for every $1 spent towards compliance between 2005 and 2015. In addition to spurring a growing environmental economy, these benefits included keeping America’s air, land and water safe from pollution, and averting unnecessary hospitalizations, birth defects, premature deaths and sick days from school and work.
As it turns out, the EPA has the best ‘bang for the buck’ of any agency, accumulating an impressive $376 billion in benefits after subtracting the costs of its regulations.
Why has this administration targeted an independent scientific agency that represents a meager 0.22 percent of the overall U.S. budget? And how will these severe budget reductions improve the economy? Surely, they will make America less competitive on the world stage. The fact is that the proposed budget cuts will ensure that the agency cannot continue to protect air, land or human health. A diminished workforce of the scientists, engineers, lawyers and others dedicated to improving the lives of Americans means that statutory mandates would not continue to meet future demands.
Pollution knows no bounds, and respects no state lines. Environmental protection outweighs the cost of budget savings. This administration and the profit-driven polluters it heeds have lost sight of the bigger picture. In fact, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, nearly three-quarters of Americans support a stronger EPA, and approve of protecting, reinforcing and expanding the EPA’s powers.
Like the Americans who lived in Rachel Carson’s era, we too want clean air, clean water, rivers that don’t catch fire and assurances that our children and grand-children will have a safe future.