In one of the most tragic ironies of 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made the news recently—for destroying the environment.
On August 5, EPA contractors and agency workers spilled three million gallons of toxic sludge from a defunct mine in San Juan County, Colorado. The debris infected the Animas and San Juan rivers, flowing through Colorado to New Mexico and Utah. According to a study by the American Action Forum, the spill may cost up to $27.7 billion.
Karma, Thy Name is Animas
After six days, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy acknowledged the environmental disaster and issued an apology. Nevertheless, while she stood in front of a river turned orange, McCarthy triumphantly declared that the water “seems to be restoring itself.”
John Kinkaid, Chair of the Moffat County Commission in Colorado and 33-year control room operator at one of the largest coal-fired plants in the country, found this stance ironic. In terms of protecting the environment, he explained, “we can never do enough to satisfy the EPA.”
Kinkaid spoke for all Coloradans, saying “We hunt. We fish. We ski. We have a vested interest in maintaining the environment.” The Environmental Protection Agency was designed to help conservation-minded Americans like him. But sometime between its establishment in 1970 and today, the EPA crossed “the line between good common sense solutions and heavy-handed job crushing regulations.”
[pq]In the EPA’s mindset, nothing matters except enforcing their will on others.[/pq]
Indeed, Todd Hennis, the owner of the Gold King Mine—where the EPA spill originated—tried to keep the EPA out, but relented after the agency threatened to pound him with ruinous fines. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want you on my land out of fear that you will create additional pollution like you did in Leadville,'” Hennis told Colorado Watchdog.org. “They said, ‘If you don’t give us access within four days, we will fine you $35,000 a day.’”
This month, “EPA created one of the worst environmental disasters in United States history,” Kinkaid continued. “Last I heard, 500 gallons [of sludge] per minute were still leaking into the river. You can’t raft, fish, swim or drink.” While the regional EPA administrator, Shaun McGrath, took responsibility right away, McCarthy waited nearly a week.
In the EPA’s mindset, nothing matters except enforcing their will on others. “It doesn’t matter if the rules don’t make sense,” Kinkaid explained. “It doesn’t matter if the regulations don’t work. It just doesn’t matter to the EPA at all. It doesn’t matter how many people lose their jobs.”
Now, the EPA itself is at fault. Will the agency now have to surrender its moral authority, and submit to the rules of some outside body?
Who Will Watch the Watchmen?
Those familiar with the EPA’s history already know the answer—of course not. Even in the midst of controversy before, this cold administrative agency has never bowed to pressure.
As Michelle Malkin notes, Former White House Director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy Carol Browner and the EPA faced no consequences for falsifying data about the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. Browder was recently held in contempt by a federal judge for ordering a staffer to delete her computer files, when she was head of the EPA under President Clinton in the 1990s.
Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA at the time of the Horizon spill, became notorious for using an email address with the fictional alias Richard Windsor in order to circumvent public disclosure rules. When Jackson resigned in December 2012, no charges were filed.
The next year, Apple Computer hired Jackson (no word as to Richard Windsor). In June of this year, Jackson became “vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives.”
In March of this year, a federal judge attacked the EPA for avoiding a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from Mark Levin’s Landmark Legal Foundation. The FOIA request centered on these false email accounts created by Jackson, allegedly in order to delay “the release dates for hot-button environmental regulations until after the Nov. 6, 2012, presidential election.”
But the EPA’s scandals just keep getting worse. In May, it was discovered that an EPA employee downloaded 7,000 porn files, and watched them for between two and six hours during the work day. The employee was not fired.
When the EPA Inspector General testified on Capitol Hill, he let slip that one employee was accused of sexually harassing 17 women. Supervisors “were made aware of many of these actions and yet did nothing.” And by nothing, he meant promoting him to a higher position with the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security, where the individual went on to harass six more women.
The EPA IG has officially begun the investigation into the Animas River spill, so at least the public will—hypothetically—know what went wrong. If previous experience is any guide, however, the bureaucrats can breathe a sigh of relief—no one will be held accountable.
The Costs of Climate Activism
Climate activism is the sweet spot in modern politics—no matter how many times you’re proven wrong, you get to call the shots. If the public doesn’t listen, it’s Armageddon, guaranteed.
As The Wall Street Journal’s Matt Ridley pointed out, almost every environmental threat of the past few decades has been overexaggerated at some point. “Pesticides were not causing a cancer epidemic, as Rachel Carson claimed in her 1962 book ‘Silent Spring’; acid rain was not devastating German forests, as the Green Party in that country said in the 1980s; the ozone hole was not making rabbits and salmon blind, as Al Gore warned in the 1990s.”
Each of these concerns proved inaccurate, but the proposals of environmentalists cost little in human terms. Not so with climate change. President Obama’s plan to cut U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions from electric plants by 32 percent by 2030 would cut global emissions by a grand total of 2 percent, but it could cost the U.S. over $1 trillion in lost GDP, according to Heritage Foundation scholar Kevin Dayaratna.
Opposition to Genetically Mutated Organisms (GMOs), nuclear power, and fracking for shale oil also carry heavy costs, Ridley argued. Greenpeace opposes vitamin-enhanced GMO “golden rice,” even though it could save millions of lives in East Asia. A NASA study found that nuclear power has prevented 1.84 million more deaths than it caused, when compared with fossil fuels.
The fight against fracking has delayed the growth of onshore gas production in Europe and parts of the U.S., leading to more reliance on offshore gas, Russian gas, and coal—each of which pose greater safety issues and environmental risks.
While solar and gas only provided 1.35 percent of world energy in 2014, they have come with unexpected costs. Wind power, for instance, requires deforestation and results in thousands of dead birds.
Environmental activism also worsened California’s current drought, as millions of gallons of drinkable water were pumped into the sea to save an endangered fish. Families now face water quotas because the government prefers to waste valuable water in a desert state. Don’t worry—it will make a better world for your grandchildren.
Meanwhile, indoor air pollution, caused by cooking over wood fires, kills an estimated four million people every year. Households in China, India, and Africa still burn wood, charcoal, and animal dung in poorly ventilated homes, causing respiratory problems over many years. Electricity and gas, provided by fossil fuels, remains the cheapest and quickest way to save those lives.
The EPA does fulfill vital functions, but it needs to be held accountable for this spill and for excessive regulations. Free people acting in a free market will find more effective ways to steward the environment than an unaccountable government agency.