Dethrone the EPA
The choice: Prosperity through liberty, or depression through strangulation.


Robert Zubrin

Prior to 1971, the average time from groundbreaking to commencement of operation for a nuclear power plant was four years. For the most recently completed plants, it is 15 years. This  very costly fourfold increase has been imposed by the EPA and the National Environmental Policy Act. Under this law, nuclear-power projects have been subjected to constant delays caused by government bureaucrats’ capriciously changing engineering requirements in the middle of construction, as well by malevolent legal harassment by organizations whose openly stated objective is to wreck the nuclear industry by driving up its costs. In addition, capital costs have multiplied fourfold because of endless additional requirements imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission without rational engineering justification. Furthermore, as a result of NRC interference, it has become nearly impossible for the nuclear industry to make improvements, even obvious ones, that might serve to reduce their costs.

EPA regulations have also allowed government officials to capriciously revoke the operating licenses of nuclear power plants during their construction, or even after they have been completed. Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis made use of the fine print in the nuclear regulations to delay the opening of the Seabrook nuclear station for three years after it was completed, at great cost to the utility, while New York governor Mario Cuomo stopped the opening of the Shoreham station in Long Island altogether, arbitrarily turning the multi-billion-dollar investment into a total loss. In the face of the uncertainty created by such arbitrary massive destruction of private property, it is no wonder that few have been willing to invest in additional plants.

Nuclear power produces 20 percent of American electricity, and coal produces 40 percent. The Obama EPA recently set forth new regulations that will, at a minimum, vastly increase the price of coal-generated power and probably, as is their clear intent, wipe out the industry altogether. This will destroy hundreds of billions of dollars of private property and impose trillions of dollars of highly regressive economy-destroying costs on the American public.

But for every one of these major outrages, the EPA acts in thousands of obscure cases to stifle or chill economic growth. Because “the environment” can be taken to include nearly everything, the EPA has arrogated to itself the right to control vast areas of American life. Rather than simply regulate emissions, it has chosen to control the design of automobiles and many other types of equipment, down to the subcomponent level, thereby preventing competition or improvement. It has caused millions of construction permits to be denied or delayed, on pretexts ranging from preserving imaginary wildlife migratory rest stops to halting suburban sprawl. It has prevented innumerable individuals from improving their own property, even when improvements — such as draining disease-spreading swamp puddles — are needed to protect public health and safety. It has created mountains of unjustifiable, indecipherable, and fundamentally unknowable regulations, and imposed trillions of dollars in cumulative compliance and litigation costs on businesses of every description.

In doing all this, the EPA has employed methods that are not only unconstitutional but completely incompatible with Anglo-American common law or any other system of justice. In 1790, the first Congress passed a criminal statute listing 20 federal crimes, all of them actions that any reasonable person might expect to be illegal even without reading the law. In contrast, the EPA has invented thousands of crimes, and there is not one person on this planet — not at the EPA, not at any law school or law firm, not at the Supreme Court — who knows what they all are. (If anyone disputes this, here is a challenge: Come to my office. I’ll give you a test with 100 questions on EPA regulations. You get three hours to answer. If you get 65 of the answers right, I’ll give you $10,000. If you don’t, you give me $5,000. Any takers?) The myriad EPA offenses are not confined to actual emissions or other physical activities in the real world; they also include compliance with EPA paperwork requirements, many of which are not merely hidden in the vast and confused tomes and files of ever-changing EPA jurisprudence, but encoded in unpublished internal memos, and which can even be changed and enforced retroactively. Thus even people who have gone to great lengths and expense to try to comply with EPA regulations have found themselves prosecuted and fined for huge sums or imprisoned.

To those with a standard education in what the American system of justice is supposed to be, this may seem bizarre, or even impossible, but it is true. The EPA gets away with it because rather than employing the actual U.S. court system, it has created its own internal system of “administrative courts” whose “judges” are employees of the EPA and subject to promotion, transfer, or discipline by the agency. Not surprisingly, these EPA courts find in favor of EPA prosecutors in nearly every case, and when they don’t, their verdicts can be set aside by the EPA administrator. And while it is true that subsequent to exhausting their resources within this rigged process, defendants can appeal to the real court system, the EPA process itself can take years, during which defendants’ property can remain confiscated, their liberty endangered, and their credit and businesses wrecked. As a result, most prefer to settle and submit.


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