The Right is going after the Environmental Protection Agency with a renewed passion and ferocity. Why? Because the EPA may be the most effective agency in the Obama administration and they are delivering on their legal mandate to protect the environment and human health. Under Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, they are assessing threats on multiple fronts and taking action. They have angered the fossil fuel industry, the chemical industry, agribusiness, and other powerful corporate entities. They are doing the people's work the way it was meant to be done and the Republicans in the House and Senate are going crazy trying to shut them down. Here are a few reasons why.
The EPA announced on Tuesday that they will set a limit on how much rocket fuel (perchlorate) we can drink. Now that sounds like a policy no one could question because it's not exactly, you know, rocket science. Who would be in favor of drinking perchlorate?
Well, actually George W. Bush and his EPA decided not to set a rule on the amount of perchlorate present in drinking water because they had determined that setting such a rule would not yield "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction". In addition to rocket fuel, perchlorate is found in fireworks, road flares, bleach and fertilizers. It presents a "meaningful" health risk to development of fetuses and infants. The chemical industry, defense contractors and the Pentagon could not face the potential liability of a scientifically based finding on perchlorate, so they bought one that would work. Enter Lisa Jackson to introduce rationality into the equation.
This is not the only good news from the EPA on regulating poisons. For the first time, the EPA is looking at groups of toxics for regulation rather than requiring that chemicals be evaluated one by one. They are currently looking at a group of 16 potential carcinogens with an eye on imposing a standard for drinking water for them all under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This approach of regulating classes of chemicals holds enormous potential benefit for human health. It is the rational and efficient way to approach our ever-more toxic environment, given the volume of chemical compounds that are manufactured and introduced into our land and water systems, and ultimately our food chain, at a dizzying pace.
The EPA has also been in the news in regard to regulating carbon and greenhouse gases. When big coal, big oil, the ethanol lobby and the nuclear industry successfully shut down any chance at meaningful climate legislation in the Senate last year, they bought themselves a bigger potential problem. Lacking new laws to specifically and effectively address climate change, the administration was forced to use a variety of existing regulations and some new rule making in an attempt to reduce the rate of climate change. This includes the EPA's authority to regulate carbon emissions , which they are now doing.
It was not only the science and environment community who had to forgo victories when climate legislation was killed by the most powerful polluters in the world. For scientists and environmentalists, the challenge to slow the rate of climate change immediately became a much more serious problem with very few options for impacting the situation positively. But polluters had been using the legislation as an attempt to codify stripping the EPA of authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Also larded into the this bill were increases in subsidies for nuclear, coal, oil and corn ethanol at the expense of real, sustainable alternatives.
Into this void came the EPA doing what it can do under its statutory authority to protect human health and the environment. And this has pissed the Right of to a point of frenzy. To be fair, this was a completely knowable outcome of killing the Senate bill and all sides were prepared for this next stage of the battle. The Right knew they would have to try to eviscerate the EPA and they have been screaming jobs and red tape as loud as they can in their efforts to cut regulatory authority off at the knees.
It remains to be seen if they will be successful. This is an area where environmentalists can tolerate no compromise with the Right. This is the last line of defense in slowing climate change and protecting human health. The EPA must retain its authority. Be prepared for much Sturm und Drang coming from the Republican Majority in the House. If Blue Dog Democrats start pealing off and giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the Environmental Protection Agency, we might as well begin toasting them with a nice glass of rocket fuel. Speaker Boehner, please put out your cigarette before you pick up the glass.