The Environmental Protection Agency has long been a target of criticism from Republican lawmakers, who periodically threaten to abolish it.
President Donald Trump has joined this chorus. On the campaign trail, he said he would abolish the EPA, which he technically can’t do. Instead, he nominated a staunch pro-industry, anti-regulation activist to head the agency and proposed to dramatically cut its funding.
The president also issued two executive orders that seek to reduce federal regulations. A February 24 order says simply: “It is the policy of the United States to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people.”
But, a curious thing happened when the EPA asked the public which of the agency’s rules should be eliminated or modified. The resounding answer from thousands of Americans was “none.” Instead, they told the agency to do its job — to keep our water and air clean, to protect Americans from pollution that can damage their health and harm their children. Don’t eliminate or weaken regulations, thousands of Americans said, strengthen them.
The agency received more than 72,000 comments. The Washington Post collected a sampling.
Most were straightforward. “Stop favoring corporations’ bottom lines over the health and lives of our American People! Please do NOT repeal the current existing regulations. Undoing them is not in the public’s best interest. Clean air and water is absolutely necessary for the citizens of our country to thrive,” read one comment.
“Do not repeal any protections! We need STRONGER environmental regulations, not weaker, and any reduction in the meager protections in place will be disastrous,” read another.
Some were blunt and angry. “So here are my thoughts on doing away with existing EPA regulations, or doing away with the EPA itself: ARE YOU BLOODY CRAZY?????” wrote one commenter.
Others recalled America’s polluted past. “Have we failed to learn from history, and forgotten the harm done to our air, water, and wetlands?” wrote Karen Sonnessa from New York. “If anything, regulations need to be more stringent. I remember the days of smog, pollution, and rivers spontaneously combusting. EPA is for the people.”
“The importance of clean air and water supplies, and of sustainable sources of energy and industrial raw materials, cannot be overemphasized in this day and age. These things are not, as many would claim, in conflict with mankind’s economic prosperity, quality of life, and freedom; rather, they are critically important to them, and integrally tied to them over a long enough timeline,” wrote Jeff Baker of Huntsville, Alabama, who described himself as a military veteran, entrepreneur and energy investor.
There were comments supporting a reduction in regulations — mostly from the industries that must follow EPA rules. Some brought up the need for changes to reduce permitting backlogs and clarify standards. Others sought the repeal or modification of regulations they deemed too onerous or too costly to meet.
It is understandable that industry is interested in reducing regulations on their particular business. Regulations can be onerous and costly. But regulations are intended to protect the public. This requires businesses to operate in a way that respects the public interest in clean air and water, safe products and unspoiled landscapes.
Thoughtful review of regulations makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense to move backwards on rules and regulations that protect public health and the environment.