The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is on a mission to further unilaterally expand its already vast regulatory powers in the name of “sustainable development.” Congress should take action to rein in the agency before it’s too late.
An EPA-requested report issued in August by the National Research Council (NRC), a private nonprofit, lays out “an operational framework for integrating sustainability as one of the key drivers within the regulatory responsibilities of EPA.” The NRC and the EPA held a meeting on the report just last week.
The exact meaning of the environmental buzzword in the context of the EPA’s agenda is vague. The report refers to a broad definition from President Obama’s Executive Order 13514:
Sustainability: “to create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.”
The EPA would carry out this broad agenda without congressional approval by claiming authority under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). According to the NRC Committee:
The 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) declared that the “continuing policy of the Federal Government” is to “create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations” (42 U.S.C. 4331(a)). That policy expresses what is now described as sustainable development.
It is important to note that the committee quotes selectively from the act and omits a crucial component of the federal government’s responsibility to work in cooperation with state, local, and other private and public constituents:
it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, and other concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.
The NRC report places the EPA’s sustainability agenda in the context of Agenda 21, which, according to Heritage’s Wendell Cox, Ronald Utt, and Brett Schaefer:
would significantly expand the role of government in economic decision-making, impede development and economic growth, and undermine individual choice and policy flexibility for local communities. Opponents should be concerned about efforts by the U.S. government to implement these policies, both nationally and locally.
It is entirely unclear what limits, if any, would keep the EPA in check, and that is the biggest threat. And based on EPA’s insatiable hunger to extend its regulatory reach—from regulating CO2 emissions to its expansive Boiler MACT rules—the agency has time and time again demonstrated its willingness to circumvent Congress.
If the EPA were to succeed in this latest power grab, it could undermine economic growth and prosperity. “Sustainable development” or “smart-growth” policies have already had negative impacts on economic growth, competitiveness, and our standard of living.
Beyond the economic effects of “sustainability,” the agency should not be allowed to unilaterally rewrite the law. That is the prerogative of Congress, not the Executive Branch. Congress should rein in the EPA in its efforts to appropriate vast and sweeping new powers.