Egregious Polluting Agency

July 2, 2010

By Steve Milloy
July 3, 2010, Washington Times

Ronald Reagan’s 10 most dangerous words were, “Hi, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” The Gulf oil spill is only the latest validation of that sentiment when it comes to environmental protection.

Just last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the government computer models built to plan for Gulf oil spills and relied on by drillers, including BP, erroneously assumed that much of the oil would evaporate rapidly or be dispersed by waves and weather. While evaporation, physical breakup and degradation will be how most of the oil disperses eventually, these overly optimistic models perhaps explain why the feds were unprepared to implement the Clinton-era policy of having adequate oil-containment booms and skimmers easily available to protect the coast.

But faulty modeling was only the first government screw-up. The Jones Act has prevented foreign companies from bringing in skimmers to help clean up the oil and the Coast Guard has kept 80 percent of the U.S. skimmer fleet out of the Gulf in the unlikely event of a simultaneous spill elsewhere.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) blocked skimmer systems offered by the Dutch because water discharged back into the Gulf after processing wouldn’t be sufficiently oil-free. It doesn’t matter that the water put back into the ocean would have been much cleaner than what was taken out of the ocean. EPA regulations nonsensically only allow pure water to be discharged back into the ocean, even in the process of cleaning up an oil spill.

Early on, the EPA tried to block BP from using the only effective oil dispersant available because of purported toxicity concerns, ignoring the reality that nothing survives in an oil slick in the first place. The Hoover Institution’s Henry Miller recently observed that EPA’s long-standing anti-biotechnology leanings have delayed the development and commercialization of genetically modified microorganisms that could feed on spilled oil.

Then there’s the Army Corps of Engineers’ delay of the construction of oil-blocking sand berms pending completion of an entirely bureaucratic environmental impact statement.

If there’s any time in history when the feds have well earned the epithet “gooberment,” that time is now. That said, federal ineptitude is nothing new when it comes to environmental protection.

The EPA’s dogged determination to force unrealistic cleanup levels on toxic waste sites under the infamous Superfund program delayed the removal of pollution for 15 years. The agency’s junk-science-based stubbornness ensured that far more money was spent on litigation and lobbyists than cleanup. But the EPA has wasted more than just time and money with Superfund – it has ruined lives and polluted the environment.

In 1982, the EPA infamously purchased and evacuated the town of Times Beach, Miss., amid the era’s unwarranted hysteria over dioxin. More than 2,000 people were involuntarily displaced from their homes, and the community was permanently bulldozed at a total cost of about $150 million.

The EPA is overseeing the “cleanup” of PCBs in Hudson River sediments – contaminants that had been safely entombed there for more than 30 years. As predicted by many, the cleanup stirred up PCBs last summer, causing water contamination at unsafe levels.

As a result of the EPA’s campaign to scare the public about the safety of chlorinated drinking water, Peruvian officials once discontinued the use of chlorine, exacerbating a deadly 1991 cholera epidemic. Closer to home, the same scare campaign led to increased levels of lead in Washington, D.C., drinking water when local officials substituted a more corrosive ammonia-based disinfectant for chlorine. Then there’s EPA’s infamous 1972 ban of the pesticide DDT, a decision that has had effects of genocidal proportions on sub-Saharan Africa.

Perhaps the next Congress will consider reforming an agency from which the environment and human health may actually need protection.

Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is the author of “Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them” (Regnery, 2009).

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