Attacking Air Pollution Victims

August 4, 2003
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Sometimes federal agencies act with such mulish obstinacy that you want to hit them over the noggin with a two by four.

One instance with which West Michigan is well acquainted is the apparent unbounded determination of Federal Prison Industries to weaken this country’s office furniture industry. We’ve commented about FPI before and likely will again as, predictably, it continues flouting the letter and spirit of the law.

Certainly fitting that same kind of bill seems to be another set of bureaucrats. They work under the aegis of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The issue currently of local interest is their thick-headed resurrection of EPA’s 1994 proposal to punish West Michigan citizens and businesses for air pollution that prevailing winds transport here from the Gary-Chicago-Milwaukee megalopolis.

We’re happy to see that Gov. Jennifer Granholm shows as much backbone about standing up to the EPA as her predecessor. And, as reported on Page 3, Michigan’s Congressional delegation is in bi-partisan lockstep against EPA plans on the issue.

But we’re confronting a loose federal cannon — 18,000 untouchable federal employees, generously funded by a budget of nearly $8 billion, blundering about with ruinous, inappropriate compliance mechanisms.

According to the EPA’s Web site, Congress created the agency in 1970 expressly to undertake “the daunting task of repairing the damage already done to the natural environment and to establish new criteria to guide Americans in making a cleaner environment a reality.”

Yeah, right.

More than half of the EPA’s staff is engineers, scientists and — oh! oh! — policy analysts, a.k.a. comfortably financed, federally anointed wonks whose job is “to guide Americans in making a cleaner environment a reality.”

Now, the EPA’s Web site claims that its top current goal is clean air.

Fine.

Unfortunately, the agency’s wonks seem congenitally unable to grasp a critical concept: that the atmospheric component of our environment is in perpetual motion.

Moreover, that motion usually proceeds southwest to northeast. In fact, at certain times of the day, you can clearly discern a broad, sulfurous-looking aerial stain extending from over Lake Michigan’s southwest horizon to the northeast horizon of Michigan itself.

You might say that stain is the neighbors’ leaves blowing into our yard: pollution stemming from literally millions of vehicles plus industrial operations of all sizes in Milwaukee, Chicago and Gary. And the EPA’s proposed method of “guiding Americans in making a cleaner environment a reality” is to tighten air quality controls, complete with attendant costs, upon communities downwind from the source.

To sum up, the EPA desires to impose upon West Michigan car owners — and, worse, their employers — the financial responsibility for cleaning up an illusory problem that they neither cause nor can control.

In this sense, the agency’s guidance to Americans “in making a cleaner environment a reality” exhibits the intellectual depth of a hard-boiled egg.

The EPA professes a noble environmental goal. No one argues about that.

But its conduct is another matter. It seems to reflect the group mentality of well-to-do federal workers using environmental quality as camouflage beneath which to pursue their personal goals of financial well-being.           

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