Keeping the EPA in Check by Cutting Funding

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been criticized for regulatory overreach, especially recently, in light of its plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. But the EPA is not entirely free to take action as it wishes; Congress can use the appropriations process and its power over funds to curb regulatory action.

Daren Bakst, research fellow in agricultural policy at the Heritage Foundation, identifies three issues that he says Congress could deal with through the power of the purse.

First, he points to greenhouse gas regulation. While Congress has refused to implement programs such as cap-and-trade, the EPA is requiring power plants to cut their carbon emissions, despite the cut having a negligible impact on the world’s temperatures. Bakst recommends that Congress make clear that greenhouse gases (GHGs) are outside of the scope of the Clean Air Act, prohibit agencies from regulating GHGs and cut funding for implementation of such regulations.

Secondly, Bakst describes the EPA’s latest attempt to regulate ozone, as a new ozone standard is expected by the end of the year. The EPA itself has estimated the rule could cost $90 billion annually, and industry groups have put that figure even higher. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, if the EPA sets a low ozone standard, such as 60 parts per billion, it could reduce American GDP by $270 billion per year through 2040. By prohibiting funding for a new standard, Congress could prevent these costs to the U.S. economy.

Lastly, the EPA has proposed a rule to define which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act, which regulates “navigable waters” (“the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas”). The EPA has taken this language to expand the definition of waters covered by the Act, including man-made ditches. The proposal would create a regulatory headache for private property owners. Again, Congress can deal with this rule by cutting funding for its implementation. In fact, the House Appropriations Committee has passed a bill that would do just that.

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