- - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why does the Left keep expanding a war that America has already won?

The war on terrorism is not won, despite President Obama’s claims. The war on poverty is a flop after 50 years and $13 trillion spent. The Obama administration won’t even fight the war against drugs, even though drug abuse is a major cause of unemployment and unemployability.

But we’ve won the war against pollution and now should be preserving the peace to maintain those benefits. Instead of celebrating success, environmental extremists insist on redefining the goals so that now we spend far more to accomplish far less. They rarely even utter the word “pollution,” instead substituting “global warming” and “climate change” as supposed environmental threats.

News media also ignore the victories, even though the Environmental Protection Agency brags about them on its website, with everything except a “Mission Accomplished” banner. For example, the agency concludes that we’ve had “dramatic improvements in the quality of the air that we breathe,” including:

A decrease in the six major air pollutants by an average of 72 percent from 1970 to 2012.

A 91 percent improvement for lead pollution, 83 percent for carbon monoxide, 78 percent for sulfur dioxide, 55 percent for nitrogen dioxide and 25 percent for ozone between 1980 and 2012.

Levels of airborne fine particles improved 37 percent and coarse particles 27 percent between 2000 and 2012.

All 41 areas that had unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide in 1991 now meet the national health standard.

These and similar accomplishments on water and soil contamination require vigilance. Nor can EPA take all the credit, especially with its often ham-handed methods. Public and business attitudes have led to many voluntary improvements.

But bureaucracies and their regulations have a natural tendency to expand. “Mission creep” is too gentle a term for EPA’s new goals such as curbing carbon dioxide. Compared to what’s already been accomplished, these new goals would provide only tiny benefits, at exorbitant expense. They would wreak havoc on the economy in general and household budgets in particular.

Advocates talk about regulating carbon but don’t mention dioxide, so that people will think we’re talking about dirty black soot in the air instead of the clear odorless gas that every animal exhales and every plant inhales to make oxygen.

The EPA’s own analysis finds that the agency’s new carbon dioxide regulation will raise electric rates by 6 percent to 24 percent by the year 2020. And by 2030, even as the U.S. population grows by 54 million, America’s ability to produce electricity will drop by 9 percent, from a baseline of 1,095 gigawatts to only 994 gigawatts. This is because a fifth of coal-powered generating plants will be forced to close. Get set for hard times and lots of brownouts and blackouts.

This new regulation is so massive that the EPA in a court brief estimated full implementation would need “230,000 full-time employees necessary to produce the 1.4 billion work hours required,” at a cost of an extra $21 billion per year. Their plan to phase in the regulation is only delaying that extra horror.

It’s not just air quality. Similar problems are expected as the EPA prepares to claim jurisdiction over even temporary stands of water.

When the EPA was created in 1970 it was common to regulate how many “parts per thousand” of a pollutant were in the air or water. Today, EPA requires measuring “parts per quadrillion” in some instances. The one-in-a-quadrillion standard is literally and mathematically one trillion times more restrictive than one in a thousand.

Requiring total purity is too much. Just because you can measure parts per billion, or per trillion, or per quadrillion does not make those quantities significant. Even the ads for Ivory Soap only claimed 99.44 percent purity — or 56 impurities per 10,000 parts.

We’re beyond the point of diminishing benefits with EPA and into the realm of actual harm when federal bureaucrats demand absurd levels of purity. Government asks us to be perfect but it excuses itself.

The official federal goal is to improve its rate of wrongful payments so that “only” 3 percent of them are in error. Medicare reports a 10 percent error rate, which is $36 billion a year. On the earned income tax credit, it’s 24 percent, which is $14.5 billion. Food stamps errors are “only” at 3.4 percent, but that’s still $2.6 billion annually.

When Uncle Sam can come close to what the EPA requires of everybody else, then let’s talk. In the meantime, let’s celebrate our hard-won victories over pollution but not pollute our economy with draconian new regulations.

Former Oklahoma Congressman Ernest Istook is president of Americans for Less Regulation.

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