The terrible peril of abolishing the EPA

Imagine turning on the faucet in your house, and knowing that you couldn’t drink from the taps because the water was contaminated by lead. Last year, that was the reality for the families of Flint, Mich. — a tragedy that reminded us that we can never take clean water or a healthy environment for granted.

Now imagine that there was no federal response to this tragedy. That there were no rules protecting your drinking water, and that you were left on your own to fight against polluters and the failure of state or local politicians to protect water quality and the health of your family.

That disturbing scenario will be reality for all Americans if House Republicans have their way.

This week, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) proposed legislation to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, which is tasked with enforcing the federal laws that keep our air and our water clean.

Flint happened with the existence of the EPA. So, err, maybe the EPA isn’t all that good at its job?

After all, evidence of a bureaucracy fucking up is not evidence of the infallibility of that bureaucracy, is it?

53 comments on “The terrible peril of abolishing the EPA

  1. Imagine […] That there were no rules protecting your drinking water

    Imagine Trump abolishes Tuesdays. Imagine animatronic bats singing Meatloaf songs flew out of your anus. Imagine all the people, lying for today… a-ha-ahhh…

  2. These things will always happen. The correct question is: how do we ensure we find out about them and rectify them as quickly as possible and at reasonable cost?

    I don’t know if “the epa as currently constituted” is an effective answer but I do know that “abolish the epa with no replacement” is not an effective answer.

    There are things where caveat emptor is not sufficient discipline for producers – where it is beyond the technical capability of the consumer to identify and demonstrate (to standard of evidence) that a product is faulty, or where a faulty product risks doing immediate and irreversible damage.

    Surely tim, these are a-level examples of market failure and you have to be an insanely dogmatic libertarian to oppose any market intervention. Even if you think the current intervention is flawed.

  3. POTUS’s proposal, specifically stated, is to dedicate the EPA to keeping American air and water clean; its original job and one from which is has wandered (to say the least).

    Nowhere, has Trump mentioned disbanding the evil empire, merely getting it to do its proper job.

  4. BiG,

    ‘There are things where caveat emptor is not sufficient discipline for producers’

    I don’t know about that, if the CEO of the water company damages my children with lead I will do the same to his, caveat venditor.

  5. Is the EPA responsible for drinking water?

    Surely it would be the water provider that is responsible for ensuring it’s water is clean?

  6. Wasn’t there a major contamination somewhere recently which was caused by the EPA? Prosecutions so far: zero.

  7. The EPA doesn’t give a shit about black people in Flint. Neither does the Democratic Party, which has controlled Flint since forever. Those negroes are already bought and paid for.

    What the EPA cares about is funneling tax money (in the form of ‘grants’) to operatives of the Democratic Party. That’s why threats to the EPA are taken with such seriousness by other operatives of the Democratic Party.

  8. Is the EPA responsible for drinking water?

    In certain circumstances, yes. In the case of Flint, primary responsibility first rested with the city itself. Secondary responsibility then rested with the county and state. The EPA was well down the food chain.

  9. “There are things where caveat emptor is not sufficient discipline for producers – where it is beyond the technical capability of the consumer to identify and demonstrate (to standard of evidence) that a product is faulty, or where a faulty product risks doing immediate and irreversible damage.”

    Please point to the evidence that Trump wishes to stop the EPA keeping drinking water clean, and rivers, reducing smog etc. As opposed to his clear stated desire to reduce its activities in the climate change sphere. Note: these are not one and the same thing.

    After all Trump owns an awful lot of real estate, I severely doubt he wishes to poison his tenants and hotel guests.

  10. I don’t see why the EPA should be responsible for drinking water, since it’s very much a local concern. But an awful lot of environmental considerations cross state boundaries: watersheds, acid rain, agricultural run-off, air pollution, etc. Having some Federal oversight seems prudent.

  11. Imagine turning on the faucet in your house, and knowing that you couldn’t drink from the taps

    You mean I should imagine half of my expatriate life?

  12. “these are a-level examples of market failure”: the Flint business wasn’t. It was an example of stupid and incompetent local government at work.

  13. Flint really seems to get a bad deal with its drinking water. Not only lead but also weren’t they the town referred to in that stream of lies “Gasland” – methane coming out of the taps? Keep up the good work, EPA.

  14. @Jim,

    Not Trump but another republican. It’s in our venerable host’s original post, if you’d bothered to read it, not even to the end.

  15. “What an eloquent statement of your carefully thought-out position.”

    That’s because I’m sick and tired of your bollocks, however eloquently put, since they are completely lacking in thought.

    The body responsible for delivering my drinking water is Thames water. It is in their interest to provide their customers with clean water for 2 reasons: profit motive and contract law. Everything else is jobs for bureaucrats.

    Indeed, I think all regulations and choice of enforcer, including the state, should be optional. The market would soon weed out the useless ones.

  16. @ BiG,

    People like you always have to force your way of thinking on others because you can’t fathom otherwise.

    My position is that I won’t stop you from wanting the state to regulate your every move because that’s your choice but that does not give you the right to impose your views on me.

  17. monoi,

    > profit motive and contract law

    Contract law doesn’t scare them. The UK doesn’t have class actions.

  18. Ducky,

    It’s very limited in scope:

    The Consumer Rights Act 2015 will make it far easier for groups of consumers to seek compensation from firms that have fixed prices and formed cartels.

    If Thames Water supplies you with dysentery on tap, you can’t accuse them of forming a cartel or fixing prices.

  19. As long as the EPA considers CO2 to be a hazardous pollutant, they can’t be trusted with drinking water safety, or any other environmental matter…

  20. Also, its difficult to have competition in water supply as the barriers to entry (pipework etc) are massive

  21. As already pointed out the EPA is very low on the list of people to blame in Flint. There are plenty of EPA mistakes where the damage done is directly linked to the EPA. Using any of these would make more sense.

    What I find interesting is that Veolia has basically escaped blame. As the company hired to manage the water system my view is that they were the front line in ensuring the water was safe. Yes, we can blame the government for not having stricter oversight, as also happened in Pittsburgh, but employing a large number of bureaucratic middlemen to maintain constant oversight of the private water company defeats the purpose of privatization. While I am less knowledgeable about the Flint situation, we would have been a lot better off staying with government employees at all levels. To compound the folly the revenue for remediation costs are being raised through a $15 dollar line charge. As the people most affected by the problem are the poor someone thought it was a good idea they paid for the damage they didn’t cause with a regressive tax.

    For those that may be concerned my water wasn’t affected. Thanks to geography my water supply is on a government run suburban network. While they can still screw up no one will claim they will change water softening agents without proper testing, just to save a few bucks.

    I would also like to note that we have a boiled water advisory for most of the city. It turns out that when you fire all of the qualified, experienced, government workers and try to quickly replace them the new political appointees won’t know how to maximize their loafing time, without causing screw-ups drawing unnecessary attention.

  22. @monoi,

    No the principles don’t stand, when you have such power asymmetry between supplier and consumer, such a degree of information asymmetry, an abuse of ineffective oversight, and inability to fire your current provider. Even the most clued-up consumer with time on his hands does not fight every breach of expectation through the courts.

    Which is why it’s called market failure. Duh. One of those few situations in which the pure market left to its own devices does not produce optimal outcomes.

  23. The best solution would be to abolish the EPA in its current form and reconstitute it as a new agency with a sharply limited remit. There should be no continuity of tenure, to avoid the old mentalities being carried over to the new body.

  24. I’m closer to BiG’s view that Monoi’s. I don’t believe Thames Water are supplying clean water out of the goodness of their hearts (although the fact that most employees drink the same water must surely motivate them a bit). Rather, the presence of a semi-competent regulator seems essential. Even if it’s just to test the water twice a week and fine the water company behaviour-changing sums when it screws up.

  25. You mean I should imagine half of my expatriate life?

    We’re very lucky in the UK that we can turn on a tap and expect completely drinkable water to come out. It’s not the same everywhere even in Europe. There’s a damn good reason the French drink so much mineral water.

    There was a self-claimed much-travelled project manager who I worked with briefly who managed to put himself out of action for a week by drinking from the tap rather than the mini-bar in a medium-posh Paris hotel. Admittedly, this was last century, but only just.

  26. “Not Trump but another republican.”

    You mean the Not Trump who was name checked three times in the article as wanting to destroy the environment by allowing big business to poison the air and water?

  27. “Imagine […] That there were no rules protecting your drinking water

    Imagine Trump abolishes Tuesdays. Imagine animatronic bats singing Meatloaf songs flew out of your anus. Imagine all the people, lying for today… a-ha-ahhh…”

    John Lennon you ain’t.

  28. “John Lennon you ain’t.”

    That’s high praise for TIS, given what a cunt Lennon was.

  29. Imagine turning on the faucet in your house, and knowing that you couldn’t drink from the taps

    Normal in most UK properties. Kitchen cold “faucet” is potable water, other sources may be from a tank with Piggie on roof in it.

    +1 for Tim N expat comment.

  30. I for one would be reluctant to drink from the tap on my bath. However the UK is, I believe, unique in requiring people to have a tank in the roof space. Many countries just get the cold supply straight from the primary riser without needing a household storage system for cold water. Was this a result of the Blitz?

  31. I always wonder why the federal government is so much more to be trusted than local officials who are with easy reach, or even state officials – all of whom are much closer to local problems than the Feds.

    I have never understood why so many people feel any reason to trust federal agencies more than local ones, specifically, why would anyone regard EPA as their reliable guardian? EPA can help sometimes. Other times, EPA fails. And when a government agency fails, it’s more likely a whopper:

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/09/us/colorado-epa-mine-river-spill/

  32. Do the sharpshooters on those big dams in the US belong to the Federal or the State or County authorities?

  33. Imagining SMFS in Tackleberry mode, dark glasses, in a cabin above a big DAM over the Colombia River, watching the salmon, lampreys and sea lions…. Then shooting a Muslim

  34. @ BiG,

    All your arguments fall under the hollywood style “Big faceless corporation who put profits and eating babies before their consumer’s well being”. Because that’s obviously a very smart business model. Funnily enough, you cite “ineffective oversight” which I guess would refer to your market regulator.

    The state is incapable of providing one of their core functions which is enforcing the rule of law and is necessary for a market to function. That is the failure right there.

  35. Diogenes – “Imagining SMFS in Tackleberry mode, dark glasses, in a cabin above a big DAM over the Colombia River, watching the salmon, lampreys and sea lions…. Then shooting a Muslim”

    Testify!

  36. Rob – “Wasn’t there a major contamination somewhere recently which was caused by the EPA? Prosecutions so far: zero.”

    The Animas River in Colorado. They negligently dumped enough toxic waste into the river to turn it orange. And then didn’t tell New Mexico.

    http://www.investors.com/politics/commentary/epa-causes-massive-pollution-of-colorado-river/

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/08/07/colorado-river-epa-mine-wastewater-spill/31320641/

    Everyone involved got bonuses and were then promoted.

  37. Bloke in Germany – “Which is why it’s called market failure. Duh. One of those few situations in which the pure market left to its own devices does not produce optimal outcomes.”

    Sorry but where is the evidence of market failure? How is it that Western consumers, with lots of markets, drink perfectly acceptable water and the heavily regulated Europeans often do not? The even more heavily regulated Third World never does? And the Russians glow in the dark if they drink the water?

    Where is any acknowledgement that perhaps if people like you run the government, the dangers of regulatory failure are much greater and much more common than market failure?

  38. There’s not many places here where you can’t drink the tap water. Nicaragua, on the other hand, I bought bottled water to brush my teeth, steered clear of salads and wouldn’t drink anything with ice. Water you haven’t uncapped yourself is really dicing with death (or dysentery). Lago de Nicaragua is simultaneously an open sewer and the country’s primary source of water.

  39. It’s not even that big of a deal not drinking tap water. I buy a 20-something litre bottle for two quid that someone delivers when I give them a phone call. Actually tap water here is supposed to be ok, you’re not going to get cholera but I wouldn’t trust it not to be full of heavy metals. None of the locals in my office will touch it. In the Philippines people drink tap water which surprised me.

  40. Please point to the evidence that Trump wishes to stop the EPA keeping drinking water clean, and rivers, reducing smog etc. As opposed to his clear stated desire to reduce its activities in the climate change sphere. Note: these are not one and the same thing.

    This is Standard Operating Procedure. Your department was initially created many moons ago to run or supervise some part of public life which was absolutely essential – e.g. clean water in this case.

    In the decades since you found that really boring so branched out into outright political activity in areas such as Climate Change.

    Incoming President decides that you should concentrate on your former, essential responsibilities and drop the political shit.

    You don’t like this, so you lie in public about how the President wants you drinking liquid shit from your taps just because you voted Democrat, plus he’s a Nazi who wants to eat your cats.

    Also see Washington Monument Syndrome and the Baby Seal Gambit.

  41. ‘The best solution would be to abolish the EPA in its current form and reconstitute it as a new agency with a sharply limited remit.’

    I have heard this argument with the IRS as well. There are functions that the EPA and the IRS do that should continue. Capital punishment for rogue agencies might indeed serve as a deterrent to future agency scope creep.

  42. Slater and Gordon (cough, spit) are currently running what they describe as a class action for affected VW owners in the UK to get compensation for the emissions scandal, so one assumes its possible.

  43. Fire all those working on AGW nonsense, they obviously are not doing anything important.
    Were I President (never happen because, among other things, I’m not insane enough to want the job) I would tell all the cabinet secretaries that with the exception of Defense I did not want to hear of any department enjoying improved morale for the next 2 years.

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