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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

EPA Under Fire

Air Date: Week of

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (EPA)

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking heavy criticism from the political left, right, and center. Jeremy Bernstein, publisher of the news service Inside EPA, analyzes efforts to boost and dismantle the agency.


GELLERMAN: The Environmental Protection Agency is under attack from the left, right and center. House Republican Lee Terry of Nebraska calls the EPA a “rogue agency”. Meanwhile, environmental organizations are suing the EPA – charging it’s not enforcing regulations already on the books and President Obama is delaying enforcement of a new EPA reg.

The Environmental Protection Agency under the gun is the topic for discussion with Jeremy Bernstein, he's publisher of the news service Inside EPA, and he joins us from his office in Arlington, Virginia.

BERNSTEIN: Hi there.

GELLERMAN: You know, I’ve been watching the EPA for many years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen things so contentious over the agency in all the time I’ve been looking at it.

BERNSTEIN: Certainly things are contentious, but I think at the same time, I don’t think we’ve really ever seen unemployment at nine percent, and I think that is probably a big driver for some of this contention.

GELLERMAN: Why is that?

BERNSTEIN: The Republicans and many industry groups are concerned that EPA regulations are preventing creation of new jobs. There’s a lot of debate about that. I think also, I mean, throughout EPA's history, the agency has drawn criticism from all sides.

And many people at the Environmental Protection Agency would probably tell you they’re doing their jobs well if there is some unhappiness on all sides. If only one side is unhappy, they probably haven’t done as balanced a regulation as they probably would like to do.

GELLERMAN: Well, by that criteria I think the EPA is succeeding wildly, because they’ve managed to upset everybody!

BERNSTEIN: That’s true, but that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t implications from this turmoil. I think, you know, we have a presidential election coming up. This is going to be one of the first times I’ve seen EPA really being front and center in the presidential election. There could be big implications for the agency down the road, depending on who wins the election.

GELLERMAN: Well, the EPA budget is just .003 percent of the federal budget, and yet, there are many people calling for a reduction - some people calling for the elimination of the agency entirely.

BERNSTEIN: Sure, there are some Republican presidential contenders who want to eliminate the agency entirely, like Michelle Bachmann. Given how concerned Republicans are with EPA regulations, I think EPA, like a number of other federal agencies, could face additional cuts in the future. One of the contradictions of this whole debate is that many polls show that the public is concerned about over-regulation, there’s also strong support for strong environmental protections.

GELERMAN: Let’s talk about ozone. The EPA, last month, initiated a regulation that would have set higher standards for the emission of ozone. And now the Obama administration seems to be pulling back - it’s delayed the enforcement.

BERNSTEIN: When EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson took office, she said that the ozone standard put out by the Bush administration was legally indefensible.

Jeremy Bernstein

GELLERMAN: Her son, in fact, has asthma.

BERNSTEIN: Yeah, and actually, when the Obama people came in, they proposed to strengthen that standard. And what the president did was that he said: that’s not going to go forward, because they had already started doing a review of the science for the next standard.

GELLERMAN: Well, environmental groups say they’re not going to wait. They’re suing the administration saying the existing standards are not adequate to protect the public health.

BERNSTEIN: That’s correct. Environmental groups are suing. But I think what the president was saying was that it would be confusing for people who would be subject to the standard to have to comply with a standard that they would issue in 2011, and then with another standard that they are required by law to issue in 2013.

GELLERMAN: The House Republicans recently passed two bills that, if they became law, would profoundly affect the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority. There’s the TRAIN act: under that, the EPA must examine the economic impacts of its regulations, but not the economic benefits. Do I have that correct?

BERNSTEIN: Right, nor the regulation's environmental and health benefits. It is a big change. I think what is different about this is that it would be required by law, and it would be much more restrictive in terms of what EPA could consider.

GELLERMAN: The House Republicans also passed the REINS Act, and I guess the idea there is that every major regulation would require a separate vote in Congress. (Editor's Note: While the REINS Act is expected to be passed by the House, the vote has been delayed.)

BERNSTEIN: Right, I mean, even some conservative lawyers have said it may be unconstitutional, because it diminishes the Executive Branch's authority. But I think the environmentalists and other opponents of the rule have said that it would make it very difficult to move forward with regulations that they think are necessary to protect the public health.

GELLEMAN: I want to ask you about this chemical called TCE. This was used as a degreaser-solvent, it was used in pharmaceuticals, in foods, it was even used in anesthesia. Just this past week, the EPA ruled that it was a carcinogen. It has taken them 25 years to come up with that classification. 25 years. Why does it take so long?

BERNSTEIN: The concern is with many of these chemical risk assessments, is that because they have potentially costly cleanup and other regulatory impacts - many of the industry groups come in and insist on a high scientific review before they can be approved.

There’s some other, in some ways, much more controversial risk assessments that we’re waiting on decisions from EPA about right now. For example, about arsenic, hexavalent chromium, which is found in drinking water in many cities around the country, platinum and some other fairly well known chemicals, that could have really significant regulatory impacts.

GELLERMAN: So, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has got to be under tremendous pressure, I can’t imagine she’s too happy with what’s going on. What do you think is going to happen with her?

BERSTEIN: I can’t imagine she would leave the agency now, right before a presidential election. I wouldn’t want to bet on a second term, I think it’s too uncertain. But, certainly, I think she’ll finish out the first term of the Obama administration.

GELLERMAN: Well, Jeremy, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

BERSTEIN: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Jeremy Bernstein is publisher of the news service, Inside EPA.



Inside EPA


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