by John J. O’Grady
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the mission of which is to protect human health and the environment, takes the lead in addressing global climate change. President Nixon established the EPA with bipartisan support on December 2, 1970, in response to the public outcry over rivers catching on fire, thermal inversions of smog literally choking people to death, valleys filled with drums of spent chemicals, lakes dying from pollution, and fish that were inedible due to high levels of toxins.
Yet, today, some economists, business leaders, and government officials seem to believe that the free market and forces of competition alone can solve our environmental problems. Some have deified the free market and imputed salvific powers to it as we approach another gilded age, while the fragile environment, asthmatic children, and vulnerable seniors are defenseless before the lobbyists that influence this administration and Congress. I believe that we should join Pope Francis in rejecting “a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.”
Funding for the EPA has been flat for years and current financial appropriations and staffing levels are at their lowest since 1989. Its budget represents only 0.2 percent of the overall federal budget. Now, the administration proposes to gut the EPA’s budget and staffing., Moreover, after 156 Parties out of 197 ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Paris Agreement), this administration has withdrawn from the agreement, running counter to global momentum for taking climate change seriously and working to curb it.
Pope Francis has reminded us that “the time to find global solutions is running out.” So, if we truly care about implementing the Holy Father’s message in Laudato Si, then we need to call, e-mail, or visit our congressional representatives and U.S. senators, and tell them to fund and staff the EPA at levels sufficient for it to be effective at discharging its mission. We simultaneously should demand accountability for the stewardship of these resources for the public interest and the common good through effective congressional oversight to ensure that the agency applies these resources efficiently and effectively in support of this mission.
One of the features of Catholic social thought is pluralism of institutions. The rich conversation to which Pope Francis contributes in Laudato Si’ recognizes that public and private institutions have strengths and limitations in advancing global social justice and care for our common home and one another. In practice, this pluralism means that each of these institutional centers of gravity has roles to play—and boundaries. Safeguarding clean air, land, and water should not be subject solely to the fluctuations of market forces. This is all the more the case when the market is not fully “free,” e.g., when public and private forces hostile to the mission and work of the EPA subvert the agency through the “capture theory” of regulation. The reason for protecting the EPA is simple: we need to protect the EPA to protect our nation and our world. The EPA is at the vanguard of protecting America’s health and environment, and helping to respond in informed and principled ways to global climate change.
 Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 55, May 24, 2015, sec. 55, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html, accessed July 29, 2017,
 Ibid., 190.
 U.S. Office of Management and Budget, “Budget of the U. S. Government: A New Foundation for American Greatness, Fiscal Year 2018,” Whitehouse Website, 48, https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/budget.pdf.
 115th Congress, 1st Session, “A BILL Making appropriations for the Department of the Interior, environment, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018, and for other purposes,” 62-79, accessed July 29, 2017, https://appropriations.house.gov/uploadedfiles/fy18_interior_xml.pdf.
 Lydia O’Kane, “Pope: Climate Change a serious ethical and moral responsibility,” Vatican Radio, December 12, 2014, http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-climate-change-a-serious-ethical-and-moral-re.