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FLOBECK: EPA: Lords of land, air, water; masters of mpg

By: Jack Flobeck
February 15, 2014 Updated: February 15, 2014 at 9:45 am
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The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, rules over all aspects of our lives from the air we breathe, to the water we drink, to how we heat our homes and even what kind of car we should buy and drive. They are princes of pollution and stewards of every swamp found in a backyard.

Last year, readers asked me to write a column about the EPA to demystify the beast and explain the often conflicting media publicity that the agency generates. It would take a book to explain the EPA; we'll do our best with 600 words.

The EPA was spawned by former President Richard Nixon and became operational Dec. 2, 1970.

In the past 44 years, it has grown to an agency with 17,320 employees in 13 office buildings in 10 regions across the country enforced by over 60 major federal laws covering dozens of programs, from advanced identification for wetlands, auto fuel economy, libraries, global warming, even a research ship, the USNS Bold, all with a modest budget of $8.682 billion.

Recent media articles detailing the daunting saga of an Idaho couple thwarted by the EPA from building their dream house are extremely distressing from an individual freedom standpoint as well as from an overall EPA perspective. It took me upwards of hours and voluminous Google searches to wade through all the current and past lawsuits involving the EPA and U.S. citizens; and it appeared there were more suits than news of EPA accomplishment.

Chantell and Mike Sackett of Idaho followed all the local rules, applied for a building permit, received approval and proceeded but were blocked by a federal order from the EPA stating that their lot contained a "wetlands." They were ordered to "restore" the property and fined $37,500 a day until they did. The feds rule, so construction halted.

The Sacketts then spent thousands of dollars for lawyers to take the case to the Supreme Court, where Justice Samuel Alito was moved to say to the government lawyers, "don't you think most ordinary homeowners would say this kind of thing can't happen in the United States?"

A six-year battle is over for the Sacketts, as the Supreme Court forced the EPA to have a legal hearing where they could explain their case. Sackett volunteered, "This has literally been terrifying, and the Supreme Court reminded the EPA that this is still America."

There is no reason not to believe that most Americans strongly endorse clean air and clean water. Let's examine the enabling water acts. They are all like the recent farm bill, Obamacare, and budget proposals . all interminable with thousands of pages that, I'll bet, few of our highly paid legislators have had the time or inclination to read.

You know the watchwords - pass it, to understand it? The major water acts were passed in 1965, 1966, 1970, 1974 and 2000. Wonderful goals, sometimes achievable, but always extremely expensive. As citizens, we might rightfully ask: "have our lawmakers read them, do they understand them, and are there any overlaps, underlaps, or contradictions?"

We are drowning under a sea of rules and the EPA auto economy rules are no exception. The engineering choice is to make cars lighter to reduce mechanical work and improve mpg, but lighter cars don't crash as well as heavier ones. Do you want your family to drive the lightest bumper on the road?

Maybe we should adopt the "tongue in cheek" suggestion of our old friend, Bjorn Lomborg, when he postulated in eight simple words, the solution to the mpg riddle as: "Change the national speed limit to 5 mph." MADD would be ecstatic to eliminate drunken driving; to say nothing of the savings in court costs, auto repair and insurance. We could also enact a rule that for every new law, we must eliminate one. Sounds sane! Without reading thousands of pages of regs, we could then concentrate on lowering our $17 trillion national debt.


Readers can contact Jack Flobeck at

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