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June 8, 2017

EPA: Goodbye Captain Planet and Hello Real Leadership

Obama based environmental policy on kids’ fiction. Trump has a much more realistic approach.

If you grew up watching Captain Planet, you would know that the greatest threat to the environment is the human species. And the worst culprits among these humans are, of course, business owners. The job of planet heroes, then, is to fight against the evil capitalists and to be a voice for the voiceless rivers, oceans and clouds.

While this propagandistic narrative works well for a cartoon series (ok, it was atrocious there too), in real life, capitalism and private property incentivize clean air, water and reforestation. Let’s say, for example, that you own a timber farm that harvests wood every seven years. You would take care of your land and the nearby water sources because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have the robust healthy trees for the next harvest seven years later and your renewable resource would no longer be renewable.

Barack Obama based his Captain Planet environmental policy on the incorrect assumption that business deliberately pollutes the environment. Thus, rather than dealing with, say, lead in the soil or toxins in the air, he focused on regulating businesses out of business and thereby bolstering bureaucratic power. This flawed theory casts private sector businesses as top polluters, and government-run companies as charitable saviors. Of course, look no further than the exceptionally managed $535 million federal loan to the now defunct Solyndra to see the truth. One report estimated that the total taxpayer cost may be as high as $845 million. The crony capitalist government “start-ups” that benefit bureaucrats and cost the taxpayer millions are nobody’s charity.

While Obama busied himself with failed government start-ups, he ignored the larger issues like air quality and Superfund. The EPA manages a program called “Superfund,” which cleans up some of the nation’s most hazardously contaminated sites. These sites can contain toxic and hazardous chemicals and require remediation by the EPA. The EPA establishes a National Priorities List (NPL) of the top U.S. sites in need of Superfund clean-up or remediation. Yet some of these sites have stayed on the list due to lack of action by the EPA for years, even decades.

Take, for example, the West Lake Landfill Superfund site near St. Louis, Missouri. In 1973, 38,000 tons of solid waste were mixed with 8,700 tons of leached barium sulfate (a uranium ore processing residue) left over from the Manhattan Project, a World War II era government (ahem) program which developed nuclear bombs. In 1990, the EPA designated it as a Superfund site on the NPL. Yet, under Obama, nothing happened except “investigations” and “studies.” Meanwhile, the residents of St. Louis live with this unacceptable level of toxicity. Despite Obama’s claims to be “for” the environment, 1,322 Superfund sites like this still remain around the country (more than when he came into office).

And then there’s air quality. The EPA sets air quality standards, called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which put limits on six air pollutants (sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and particle pollution). There are currently 34 states that do not meet the EPA’s air quality requirements, 10 more than when Obama first took office. Ignoring the obvious needs of our country to deal with toxic waste, soil and water contaminants irresponsibly puts public health at risk.

So how did Obama, so lauded by the media as an environmental crusader, fail on such an epic level?

Well, because for him, a business-killing, highly regulatory EPA was a success. While it failed in protecting the environment, it succeeded in massive regulations on manufacturing and other businesses.

The good news is that we are saying goodbye to the fictional assumptions of Captain Planet and saying hello to real leadership at the EPA. President Donald Trump’s new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has recommitted the agency to actually focusing on the environment while also supporting economic growth. Last month, Pruitt issued a memo that prioritizes the cleanup of the toxic 1,322 Superfund sites across the country. Under his leadership, the EPA is planning to roll back needless regulations, which will save an estimated 1.4 million U.S. jobs. Pruitt’s commitment to the Constitution, the Rule of Law, and the process by which administrative rules are made means that the agency won’t be abused by special-interest groups who seek to change policy though a “sue-and-settle” strategy. Additionally, the new leadership has already begun to restore relationships with the states, as opposed to Obama’s modus operandi of dictating from Washington.

Finally, President Trump’s recent decision to exit the Paris Accord not only preserves our sovereignty to establish our own environmental priorities (which are cleaner than most in the world), but frees us from the obligation to pay for the remediation of other countries (namely India and China).

Obama’s failed leadership co-opted the environment issue as a way to concentrate government power by killing manufacturing and energy businesses, while simultaneously ignoring the real issues of air quality and toxic Superfund site cleanup. Trump’s and Pruitt’s leadership prioritizes the environment while also supporting business, jobs and the American worker. This new team seeks to achieve what we all want: clean water, air and soil, clean places to live and removal of toxic substances in order to provide a clean environment for the humans, plants and animals of the next generation.

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