Since his election, President Trump has not particularly shied away from controversial decisions and appointments. Supporters argue that he is doing exactly what he said he would do, so why the surprise? Detractors argue that he is doing exactly what he said he would do, so where’s the outrage? I have read that part of the problem may be that he might just be the first person elected to be President of the United States that is not only intent on fulfilling his campaign promises, but is also determined to fulfill them. And that is a shock to nearly everyone.
Be that as it may, the current issue is his proposal to cut funding to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I was asked my thoughts on this by a good friend of mine. I started to reply specifically to him, but there’s a lot here, from theoretical to political, to practical, and I found that my response would be far too long for a social media reply. So I am posting my reply here, and I will deal with the theoretical, political, and practical aspects separately.
This is an area that liberals and conservatives butt heads on all the time. Ok, in theory, the EPA is a good thing. It is supposed to protect the environment, right? After all, that’s its name! But is that what it does? Even when it’s at its best it imposes hardship on businesses, forcing them to blow out cleaner air, cleaner water, less effluviants, less waste, and so on. That’s a given, and that is a good thing; I have no argument with any of those, nor does any realistic person. But the realism of such demands must be measured against the need for the hardship imposed. Example: It is reasonable to expect that factories do not spew proven carcinogens into streams and rivers. But it is not reasonable to expect that each and every drop of water is distilled water clean. One end of that spectrum protects people, the other bankrupts the company. Most regulations are some compromise between the two, allowing guck at a rate of some certain parts per million. Enough to reasonably protect the citizens, but not unrealistically severe. I am old enough to remember the Cuyahoga River catching on fire, and I do believe in a clean environment.
The problem is that the EPA doesn’t necessarily follow a reasonable compromise. Under one president, it might slash regulations without regard to public safety (this, I understand, is the fear under Trump). Under another president, it might be utilized to push a more socialist agenda and a power grab, making it extremely for businesses to realistically remain in business (which is what many believe happened under Obama).
Even more theoretical is the “who’s gonna pay for it” vs. “it’s a good thing we gotta do this” argument. This is one of the points on which I frequently take issue with liberals. As soon as someone brings up the cost of a particular program, liberals tend to howl that those asking the question are unfeeling brutes, only concerned with money. And that’s just not so. Of course cleaner air is a good thing. Of course less waste products is a good thing. But it is a reasonable thing to ask about the cost. A friend of mine in an unrelated discussion once said that it’s easy to choose between a good thing and a bad thing. But its a lot harder to choose between a good thing and a good thing. Example: A family needs to put a new roof on the house; the old one is leaking badly, and patching simply won’t do it. But little Suzie needs braces, and they can only pay for one. What do they do? According to the typical liberal thought, do both, why is money an issue, how horrible are these people that they would consider the cost? But it’s not horrible; it’s called being a grown-up. Liberal spending in general, and the EPA regulations specifically, are exactly the same. Right now Federal spending is totally out of control, and hard choices have to be made. We simply cannot continue at the current rate, and everyone knows it. The problem is which good thing does one cut? No matter which budgets get cut, someone’s gonna scream. But it has to be done. The current spending is just unsustainable.
President Trump’s current EPA cuts are causing a lot of liberal heads to explode. I think that for the most part, a liberal never met a regulation they didn’t love. Regulations give the government a lot of control, which is exactly what liberals want; control over whatever area one wants to discuss.
Under Obama, nearly 4,000 new EPA regulations were written. That’s an average of nearly 500 a year. And it is simply unbelievable to me that these were not intended as a power grab. One of President Trump’s campaign issues was exactly this, that he would roll back Obama’s power grab through regulation in the EPA. It’s true that he has slashed the EPA budget by about 25 percent. That’s a huge cutback, right? But do you know what their budget is after the cutbacks? After a 25 percent cutback? President Trump’s 2018 proposed budget for the EPA, after cutting the budget by 25 percent, is $6.1 billion! After the cutback! Six. Point. One. BILLION. I am sorry, but that is a huge number, and I simply cannot get worked up about the EPA “losing funding” but still retaining a budget of that amount. And this is where many liberals start screaming that people like me “don’t care about the environment.” Not true. I do care. However the approach I prefer is more measured, slower. Prove to me that it is needed. Show the consequences of enacting the rule/regulation, and the consequences of not enacting it. And I don’t mean “the sky is falling” kind of consequences, but factual, thoughtful discussion of the possibilities.
Trump has ordered the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to review and reconsider the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule put in place by Obama in 2015. It appears that this was a genuine effort by the Army Corps and the EPA to more clearly define regulations already in place since 2001 and 2006. The pushback, as I understand, is not on the rule itself, but on the potential for future misuse. And I think that is a fair concern. After all, isn’t this how the government has already seized as much as it has? This is the old story of putting a frog in water. Put it in boiling water, and it will fight to get out. Put it in cool water, heat the water slowly to boiling, and the frog will just float there until it is gone. Honestly, I don’t even know if the frog story is true, but the illustration is apt. The government has constantly and consistently taken a piece here, a nibble there, until nearly every aspect of our lives is regulated. Incandescent light bulbs. Toilets that don’t flush well. Nozzles for gas cans that simply suck. These are just a few examples of Federal rules and regulations passed, perhaps with good intentions, but the fallout and intrusion is real. So I don’t blame critics of the WOTUS rule for being concerned.
Finally, the Great Lakes Initiative funding.
I want to make something very clear here. I am a scuba diver that lives within walking distance of Lake Erie. My wife and I have dived incredible wrecks in the Great Lake, and we are very well aware of the negative impact that neglect, pollution, and invasive species can have. We believe in clean water, and in a clean Lake. We support efforts to keep it clean, and are doing what we can to assist in efforts to create a Marine Sanctuary area in Lake Erie. Further, we raised our children here, drinking Lake Erie water, as well as water from other areas that would be affected by EPA rules and regulations. The Great Lakes Initiative is intended to combat pollution and invasive species in the Great Lakes, and President Trump has proposed eliminating nearly all of the funding for the Great Lakes Initiative, from $300 million to about $10 million. And I confess to a certain amount of trepidation about that. Three hundred million is a drop in the bucket for the Federal government. On the other hand, a dollar saved, and all that. Plus, I think it would be kind of hypocritical if I expanded on how it’s ok for Trump to cut spending on EPA regulations, but I insisted that the one that I care about be untouched. Especially since I have been in favor of a Presidential line item veto in the Federal Budget for years.
So. I guess we will have to wait and see. All of this could be changed or modified by Congress. It could be that all or none of Trump’s proposals make it through. And it could be a disaster or a triumph, or anywhere in between. Time will tell.