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Doing More Harm Than Good: Big Government on Earth Day

Op-Ed

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Doing more harm than good: Big Government on Earth Day

Earth Day ought to be an opportunity to appreciate the wonders of the natural world God gave us. When I can, I spend it in my yard; digging in the dirt, planting flowers, and relishing the sights, sounds, and smells of the miraculous world around us. I have marked it by cleaning highways, building nature trails, or taking my children to recycling centers.

Our planet is a precious gift that each one of us has a responsibility to preserve. We are equally blessed with an innovative spirit that continually revolutionizes conservation efforts. In this, government intervention is often counterproductive; picking winners and losers rather than allowing the market to reward the most efficient approaches, the government hobbles the economy and stifles further innovation.

Government is also a frequent offender in the crime of regulatory over-reach. Here again, in an effort to "do something", government can wind up doing more harm than good. The EPA is on the cusp of such an action right now.

Last week, the EPA took a major step towards implementing the same kind of energy and emission restrictions the President wants to see under his Cap and Trade scheme by regulation, rather than through legislation. In finding that carbon dioxide and five other "greenhouse gasses" are harmful to human beings, the EPA is taking the first step by giving itself permission to regulate them via the Clean Air Act.

That means that the EPA will be able to classify any mo- bile or stationary source of more than 100 tons per year of carbon dioxide as a "major emitter" of greenhouse gasses. That standard would affect an estimated 1.2 million establishments, including hospitals,

schools, and churches. Further, the EPA will be able to limit the production of those gasses and punish those who, in the view of the government, emit too much. That punishment will come through fines and levies.

Farms, with their livestock, will also suffer. Almost every small agricultural operation, including family farms, will meet the 100 tons per year threshold. Agriculture experts predict the cost would be a tax of $175 per cow, $88 per head of beef cattle, and $20 per hog. Additionally, new farms or farms wishing to expand would be burned with "New Source Review" permitting requirements which the EPA imposes and are notoriously costly and time intensive. These new costs will be transferred directly to the consumer in the form of higher food prices at the grocery store while our ability to expand domestic agriculture will be seriously hindered.

Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who vociferously bemoaned the "imperial" Bush Administration have been suspiciously silent since the EPA's announcement on Friday. They are not troubled, as I am, by the fact that the EPA is threatening this regulation without buy-in from the Congress. They see no dangerous precedent in allowing the executive to set such sweeping regulations without advice or consent. I expect some Members who represent major manufacturing districts or rural agriculture economies prefer it this way. After all, when the executive regulates, there are no uncomfortable votes to defend back home.

Other colleagues rejoice at what amounts to a regulatory gun at the head of Congress. The EPA ruling supports the Administration's position that one way or another, carbon emissions will be limited and taxed. After all, the Speaker has already told us that we need revenues from such environmental taxes to fund the Democrat leadership's massive growth in government spending. The EPA aims to short- circuit any meaningful debate on the wisdom of such regulation, instead engaging in what my colleague Darell Issa rightly called "a game of chicken with Congress." Either we adopt regulations many of us deem unwise or the EPA will do it for us.

I saw this coming last year, and filed H.R. 391 in an effort to protect the interests of rural America by seeking to prohibit the EPA from regulating green- house gasses under the Clean Air Act. Passing this bill now won't end the debate on car- bon emissions, conservation, or climate change. Rather, it will ensure that there is free and fair debate on the topic. By adopting H.R. 391, Congress will have the ability to make good policy rather than being forced into adopting one of several bad options.

The situation isn't without its irony. If you multiply the average person's production of carbon dioxide per year and multiply it by every Congressman and Senator on the Hill, you will find that Congress produces about 194 tons of hot air annually. Our own debate would make us a major emitter in the eyes of the EPA. And yet, that is what we need more of, not less.

Before Congress addresses the questions of climate change, conservation, and even wise regulation, we must first aggressively defend our prerogative to do so. We cannot, as the Administration seems to prefer, simply argue our way to their predetermined conclusion that higher energy taxes are the only route to a cleaner environment.

After all, unilaterally burdening agriculture and industry with higher costs only drives business and corresponding job growth off shore to countries with more permissive regulation. Innovation, not regulation, is what's needed here.

Nothing in the EPA's rules reinforces the vital element of innovation. Rather, it is another sad example of the "more harm than good" overreach that limits growth, hobbles the economy, and does little to actually preserve our environment.


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