NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 19, 2008

A more decentralized, results-focused and accountable approach to air quality would guarantee clean air, but with fewer of the harmful side effects of the current system, says Joel Schwartz of the American Enterprise Institute.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state regulators, for public support, depend on the perception that there is still a serious problem to solve.  But they are also the ones who decide when their own jobs are finished, explains Schwartz.

For example:

  • The EPA sets the pollution standards and specifies the means by which the standards will be achieved.
  • No matter how low air pollution goes, the EPA has never declared the air safe and continues to tighten the standards.
  • The EPA also reports on the costs and benefits of it own regulatory programs—like a company that keeps its own books.

The regulatory system's conflicts of interest and blurred lines of accountability put regulators in the business of fear mongering and empire-building, rather than limiting them to the efficient pursuit of clear air, explains Schwartz.  He recommends:

  • Congress should set ambient air pollution standards states must attain, along with the deadlines for meeting them and the penalties for failure.
  • States should only be liable meeting standards; they should not be forced implement specific regulatory programs.
  • Congress should still be responsible for setting limits for a few major pollution sources with interstate effects; all other source of pollution would be under state control.
  • The EPA's role would be limited measuring emissions and air pollution levels and enforcing Congress's emission limit for federally regulated sources.

Putting legislators, rather than regulators, in charge would not be a panacea, but legislators would have less of a stake in growing the power of the administrative state if they are directly accountable for imposing the requirements, says Schwartz.

Source: Joel Schwartz, "Clearing the Air," PERC Reports, Spring 2008.


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