The Corner

Useful Idiots and the Last Refuge of Reactionary Environmentalism

Things are really getting desperate for the environmental community when they have to trot out Bill Ruckelshaus and Christine Todd Whitman to defend against an “assault” on “science” and the EPA. Ruckelshaus and Whitman, in the Washington Post this morning, warn against the “siege” of the EPA, by which they mean that Congress — those silly elected representatives who somehow think they get to govern — wishes to hold accountable a rogue agency that intends to extend regulations beyond the consent of our elected branches. Horrors!

The article, which has all the hallmarks of having been ghost-written for them by one of the big green organizations (high on rhetoric and sentimental slogans, very low on facts and serious analysis), raises red herrings not at issue and is deceptive in the extreme. Ruckelshaus served Presidents Nixon and Reagan fairly well, though he is the progenitor of one of the worst regulatory decisions ever: the complete ban on DDT. And about Whitman the less said the better. She was one of George W. Bush’s weakest appointments, whose unfitness for the EPA was demonstrated in an early press appearance when she mixed up greenhouse gases and climate change with ozone layer depletion.

The less-than-dynamic duo write:

As former administrators of the EPA, both under Republican presidents, we have observed firsthand rapid changes in scientific knowledge concerning the dangers posed by particular pollutants, including lead additives in gasoline, benzene and the impact of contaminants on our drinking-water supply. In each of these cases, the authority of our major environmental statutes was essential to protect public health and the most vulnerable members of our society, even in the face of remaining scientific debate. . .

It has taken four decades to put in place the infrastructure to ensure that pollution is controlled through limitations on corporate, municipal and individual conduct. Dismantle that infrastructure today, and a new one would have to be created tomorrow at great expense and at great sacrifice to America’s public health and environment. The American public will not long stand for an end to regulations that have protected their health and quality of life.

Yet nothing being proposed in Congress at the moment would “dismantle” or even roll back any of these statutes or regulatory regimes. Current congressional action is targeted only at the proposed extension of the Clean Air Act to a domain that Congress never would have agreed to, and for which the architecture of the act is totally unsuited: greenhouse-gas emissions.

But the ultimate bankruptcy of the Ruckelshaus-Whitman piece can be seen in the old D.C. standby: Budget cuts will harm the environment!

Earlier this year, the House of Representatives approved a bill that would cut the EPA’s budget by nearly a third and in certain areas impede its ability to protect our air and water. 

This unwittingly reveals the biggest defect of the regulatory state, at least as it applies to the environment—measuring activity in terms o inouts rather than outputs.  Guess what? The EPA’s budget was cut sharply during the Reagan administration (when a fellow named Ruckelshaus ran it for a time). Guess what else: The decline in pollution accelerated under Reagan. Well, at least Ruckelshaus and Whitman are good recyclers.

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