Here are a few backstories on environmental elitism and lobbying efforts in the Reagan era.
- By the time of the Reagan Administration, the political forces around the environment had crystallized into two decidedly different philosophies. There was the “Washington-centric force” which advocated for elimination of all pollution, regardless of cost, economic impact, or our ability to finance other societal values. Correspondingly, those in the Washington-centric camp believed in the application of ever more stringent technology applications, ratcheting down pollution to zero, literally. Indeed, the 1985 goal of the 1972 FWPCA act was “zero discharge of pollutants” into the waters of the United States. They fiercely believed that every environmental problem had a federal solution. The Washington-centric force distrusted states’ resolve to regulate pollution and use predictive science to make pollution control decisions on a local basis. This is the group that dominated the passage of 1970s national environmental legislation that embedded the new federal top-down regulatory and enforcement systems involving minimum technology requirements and permits.
- The very shrewd people who populated the echelons of the environmental lobby focused on bringing down Gorsuch by birddogging everything she did and used the print media to amplify their central allegation. At the same time, the lobby juxtaposed the obvious: polls showed that Americans wanted clean air and clean water, and as I put it, “ …an EPA, however dysfunctional, that will keep an eye on things.” Here, indeed, was Gorilla in the Closet.
- Also, and most importantly, the Washington environmental elite did not want to actually debate the means and methods of administering environmental laws, which was the cornerstone of my, and Anne’s, regulatory and management reform initiatives. They seemed willing to sacrifice a unique opportunity to fix many of the problems EPA had set in motion, particularly in their relationships with their “so-called” state partners, based on their first 10 years of experience, and rather to aid and abet their friends on the Hill and within EPA — the holdovers, if necessary. All of these schemes materialized to bring EPA to its knees in order to score political points against Reagan.
- Tom Jorling, who was my predecessor once removed as EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water responsible for EPA’s destructive Presumptive Applicability Policy, made the startling observation:
“As a society, we still have not figured out how to deal with diverse local jurisdictions and to recognize that we needed a governmental management entity that somehow can bring them together. That unit is not the states, it is not regional planning commissions, and it’s something else. Section 208 was an effort to address that. It has not succeeded … and that’s one of the major political issues that this nation has to face.”
- This view displays hubris in every way. It reflects the disregard for the ability and fundamental importance of local government, and the corresponding accountability of local elected officials in governance in our democratic society, to annually balance budgets and choose to pursue expenditures that represent a balance of competing needs for limited resources based on an assessment of costs and benefits. Basically, he is saying the program failed because we didn’t have the right institutions involved and need new ones.