The Trump EPA: Increasing Levels of Common Sense

To hear Democrat voices tell it, one might be tempted to think the incoming Trump administration actually wants dirty air, dirty water, and to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Among the more breathless of those voices, one Atlantic magazine writer labeled the incoming Trump administration the "Triumph of Climate-Change Denial" for not accepting climate change and its presumption of "anthropogenic" (man-made) global warming as settled science.  Still another caustically wrote, "Trump's Climate-Denying EPA Pick is Worse Than You Think" because he will now "enjoy free rein to gut environmental regulations, without Congress or the courts to stop him."  No less than a former senior adviser to President Obama demonized President-Elect Trump's nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, as "an existential threat to the planet."

As Oklahoma's attorney general, Pruitt had already incurred the wrath of hardcore environmentalists as being both anti-science and anti-environment.  But more explicitly, he had organized a coalition of other state attorneys general to block the EPA's Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's unwieldy and costly policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that dramatically affected the electricity, auto, and oil and gas sectors of the U.S. economy.  He had led the efforts to curtail EPA overreach for exerting regulatory authority reasoned to be entirely inconsistent with its constitutional and statutory limits.

Under the Obama administration, the EPA took its lead to restrict and regulate in the name of climate change.  Like President Obama declaring, "the debate is settled," climate change – with its presumptions of human-caused global warming and necessity of exigent actions to avert catastrophic climate disruption – provided the EPA both its justification and cover for carte blanche regulatory action in key sectors of the U.S. economy.

That regulation, adhered to the administration's Climate Action Plan to reduce "carbon pollution," was justified with the climate change rationale, but, importantly, it was imposed without regard for an industry's operational realities or overall sizable contributions to the nation's economy.  The overreach took the form of the EPA acting as the arbiter of environmental standards, bypassing congressional (lawmakers') guidance, and favoring environmental considerations to the detriment of equally important economic and societal activity.

Contrary to the hysteria from the left, Mr. Trump and his Republican administration can be expected to take a more realistic, practical, and pragmatic approach to the environment.  A Trump administration EPA would seek to adopt more of a stewardship role where environmental policy would strike a balance between protecting the environment and not stopping the economy dead in its tracks.  That balanced approach would make good and efficient use of natural resources, but not halt use of ample natural resources like fossil-based fuels.  One of the realities driving such policy choices is that until there are viable comparably efficient and effective alternatives to the internal combustion engine, the U.S. will continue to use fossil-based fuels.  Trump administration policy should look to carefully manage that balance, act smartly, and not be ideologically locked into the current "fossil fuels are bad" mindset.

Mr. Pruitt, who hails from a large natural gas- and oil-producing state, has never said the country does not need an EPA.  Rather, he has emphatically stated that the "EPA can serve – and has served, historically – a very valuable purpose."  That said, he wants Congress involved and believes that the 1970 Clean Air Act, under which the EPA claims to be acting, is long overdue for an overhaul by Congress.  It is Congress that must legislate authority to the EPA and at least bound and define the reach of its regulatory actions.

An illustrative example of EPA overreach occurred just this past summer, when the agency weighed in on the airline industry.  Their recent verdict: "planet-warming pollution produced by airplanes endangers human health by contributing to climate change."  Such was the basis of their so-called "endangerment finding" under that same Clean Air Act that has now triggered a legal requirement to impose the first ever government regulations of aircraft emissions and extend the EPA's reach into yet another segment of the U.S. economy.

Airlines are ironically a textbook example to illustrate where government intervention by EPA is not necessary.  The airlines already understand that it is in their own best interests to limit and reduce exhaust emissions irrespective of any government intervention.  Quite simply, fuel is expensive to carry and burn.  Fuel vies with labor as airlines' biggest expense, and companies work hard to find ways to reduce consumption and improve overall fuel efficiency.  Burning fuel costs them money and affects their bottom line.  The airlines already make an exacting science of conserving fuel and burning as little as possible – but they also continue to move all the passengers who need and want to travel.

That is the more pragmatic approach Mr. Pruitt – and the Trump administration – will likely adopt for the EPA.  It won't go away; it won't be abolished.  Instead, the EPA will strike a more healthy and objective balance between environmental protection and keeping the economy and society powered and Congress providing their legislative and oversight roles.

Make no mistake: there is recognition of the serious global challenges that still exist.  Billions of people around the world have limited or no access to reliable sources electricity or energy.  Billions more still cook with traditional methods, while many others still keep warm by inefficient means.  Yet, despite those obstacles, there is understanding that the most direct, rapid, and proven way out of "energy poverty" is the tried and true path of using the planet's conventional and plentiful fossil fuels.

Should the nation be a good steward of natural resources?  Of course.  Should the U.S. preserve our environment and keep it as clean as possible?  By all means.  Can corporate entities that provide energy and natural resources for the economy be expected to behave responsibly or face consequences?  You bet.  But any administration must balance those legitimate environmental concerns with using the resources necessary to keep the nation fed, warm, and moving.  Simple common sense.  Right?

Chris J. Krisinger (Colonel, USAF Ret.) writes on government and national security topics.  He has family members employed in the airline industry.