- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2000


In a book on her days as Virginia's secretary of Natural Resources, Becky Norton Dunlop describes a long-running fight she had with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over testing of automobile emissions in the state. The feds wanted separate testing and repair operations that would force Virginia drivers through a handful of government-run testing facilities setting up the possibility that they would face long waiting lines before being sent back to private garages for the needed repairs. Backed by then-Gov. George Allen, Mrs. Dunlop won the battle, sparing Virginians a useless, annual ordeal.
The battle over emissions testing in Virginia came to mind upon reading of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's comments on the prospect of New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman's serving in a Bush Cabinet. According to an interview in The Washington Post, Mr. Falwell had warned President-elect Bush that her past support of abortion rights should disqualify her from judgeships or from Cabinet posts with heavy responsibility for social policy. She would have zero voice on social policy at EPA, Mr. Falwell said, in something of a backhanded endorsement.
But the head of EPA isn't a token position. As Fred Smith, head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute told this newspaper's Ralph Hallow Wednesday, "Population control groups and the environmental establishment are essentially the same group. The EPA is the most powerful economic policy job in Washington because regulation is the preferred tool of government intervention today. [Mrs.] Whitman is part of the Northeast liberal establishment Republicans and Democrats who go with the 'green tide' of environmental and regulation zealots."
Consider the power of an agency that can ram through 11th-hour regulations, as EPA is doing now, ratcheting down exhaust emission standards for heavy-duty highway engines and vehicles and setting new low-sulfur standards for highway diesel fuel. Nominally the regulation is about improved health; reducing pollutants is supposed to help everybody, particularly asthmatics and others with respiratory ailments, breathe a little easier. But the vast majority of Americans already lives in areas that meet federal clean-air standards. Why jack up the cost of trucking and therefore the cost of consumer goods or the cost of public transportation when there is no corresponding health benefit for that majority?
Unfortunately regulators like current EPA head Carol Browner aren't accountable to the public for misguided policies, in part because the costs are dispersed through higher prices for goods and services. They don't have to ask permission from Congress to do it because they can usually find some high-minded statute the Clean Whatever Act with language that a friendly judge can interpret as permission. It takes a committed appointee to hold the line on the "green tide." That commitment, not political patronage for persons of controversial "social" views, should be the standard by which President-elect Bush picks the next head of EPA and other regulatory agencies.

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