Environmental policy can be depressing. Few activists seemed to have learned the errors of Malthus’ notion of “overpopulation.” No, humans are a “cancer.” Rather than accepting that we are a part of nature, the claim persists that there’s some elusive equilibrium that would exist if we didn’t.
As a consequence of that worldview, Earth Day is less a celebration of the incredible advances since the first Earth Day than an annual panic that things are getting worse and our time to turn things around is disappearing. This year, for instance, it’s said that we only have 10 years left to save the planet.
Alarmism aside, it’s amazing how much interest in the environment has grown and how that interest has translated into observable environmental improvements. All of this has been made possible by one thing: the incredible economic growth during the last half century.
How would you respond if a neighbor began covering your property with a strange black mold? Once you stopped shouting expletives at him, you’d probably insist that he stop and clean up the damage he’s done. Now imagine that he refused, insisting that the government gave him permission to do it and the damage he’s doing to your property is your problem.
As crazy as that sounds, such arguments are routinely made. In Kentucky, for instance, homeowners near distilleries have noticed a mold growing on everything they own. It’s called “whisky fungus” and it is an unintended byproduct of distilling. In other words, it’s pollution.
As property owners are calling distilleries to account for the damage to their property, the companies are claiming that they can’t be held responsible because they have a federal pollution permit issued under the Clean Air Act. In effect, the companies are asserting that the federal permit eliminates its neighbors’ property rights.
Tomorrow, March 28th, I’ll be testifying on the impacts of Endangered Species Act consultation on economic development and infrastructure. The hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resource Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will be at 10am in Room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building. [Update: The archived footage of the hearing has been added to the end of this post.]
In my written testimony, I explain that the consultation process has become more burdensome as the federal government has grown. As the number of projects that the federal government regulates, permits, and funds has increased, more and more projects with a minor federal nexus and species impacts must undergo costly and time-consuming consultation.
Yesterday, the Investor’s Business Dailypublished my op-ed on the Trump administration’s opportunity to reform implementation of the Endangered Species Act to better align private incentives with species conservation. That article begins:
President Trump campaigned on a promise to repeal 70% of federal regulations, eliminating red tape to promote job growth and economic development. Any regulatory reform effort should initially focus on the low-hanging fruit — those regulations which are needlessly costly and counterproductive.
One of those low-hanging fruit is the illegal and counterproductive regulation that treats critically endangered and less vulnerable “threatened” species the same.
The plaintiffs are Public Citizen, NRDC, and the AFL-CIO, all of whom fear that the order will impair their interests by reducing regulations. They raise separation of powers, Take Care clause, and Administrative Procedure Act claims against the order.
For decades, the federal government’s ownership of vast areas of the west, and its decisions to restrict the productive uses of these lands, have been a constant source of conflict. States, local communities, and neighboring property owners complain that these decisions, which can have significant impacts on their local economies, should not be made by distant politicians and bureaucrats in Washington.
However, their calls for the federal government to transfer these lands to states or private property owners, as the government did in eastern states, have been sharply opposed by environmentalists. They argue that only the federal government can decide how “our” lands should be used. States have to accept Congress’ decisions about these lands.
But the tables have turned in a case that Pacific Legal Foundation is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear. Federal law encourages mining on many federal lands. California disagrees with Congress’ decision and, spurred on by environmentalists, has adopted an outright ban on suction dredge mining within the state, including on federal lands. Apparently, all that talk about states having to accept Congress’ decisions about federal land had an unstated qualification—except those states where environmentalists hold political power.
Yesterday, the President signed an executive order directing federal agencies to repeal two regulations for every new one they adopt. The response has been predictable. Supporters praise it for potentially stemming the tide of federal regulations. Critics assert that it is a dire threat to our lives, air and water, and everything else we hold dear.
I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The general thrust of the executive order—reducing regulations and giving agencies an incentive to internalize regulatory costs—is a good one. There are an incomprehensible number of obscure federal regulations controlling most everything we do and, even though we can’t possibly know them all, subjecting us to criminal punishment should we run afoul of them.