The US EPA is Dysfunctional

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and with safeguarding the natural environment: air, water, and land. The EPA was proposed by President Richard Nixon and began operation on December 2, 1970.

Over the first 30 years of its existence the EPA played an important role and acted decisively to live up to its mandate of protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment. Today however the EPA is an embattled organization facing criticism from environmental groups that it is powerless to safeguard the environment and is neglecting its responsibilities to protect human health. Among the recent issues that have reflected negatively on the EPA:

  1. Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen Johnson declined to explain before Congress how a conclusion he made last year that global warming put the public in danger could lead to a decision not to regulate greenhouse gases.
  2. A Federal judge found that the EPA and the state of Florida had dismally failed in their duty to protect the Everglades from harmful phosphorus washing off sugar farms, vegetable fields and suburban streets. In his ruling the judge took EPA to task for repeatedly violating the very Clean Water Act that it is supposed to administer.
  3. A Federal Court in the Northern District of California (Northwest Environmental Advocates v. EPA) found that EPA’s regulation exempting ballast water discharges from the Clean Water Act was “plainly contrary to the congressional intent,” and ordered the Agency to develop new regulations.
  4. Voluntary pollution-reduction programs touted by the Bush administration and supported by EPA as part of the solution to global warming had "limited potential" to reduce greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Inspector General's Office.
  5. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer and committee members Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, and Frank Lautenberg called for the resignation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, charging that Johnson had given misleading testimony before Congress; refused to cooperate with Congressional oversight; and based agency decision making on political considerations rather than scientific evidence or the rule of law.
  6. Five states threatened to sue the Environmental Protection Agency if it did not act soon to reduce pollution from ships, aircraft and off-road vehicles.
  7. Hundreds of Environmental Protection Agency scientists complained they had been victims of political interference and pressure from superiors to skew their findings. In a survey, the EPA scientists described an agency suffering from low morale as senior managers and the White House Office of Management and Budget frequently second-guess scientific findings and change work conducted by EPA's scientists.
Scientists at EPA have repeatedly singled out the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at the White House for interfering with their work, accusing OMB officials of inserting themselves into decision-making at early stages in a way that shaped the outcome of their inquiries. They also alleged that the OMB delayed rules not to its liking. EPA actions "are held hostage" until changes are made, a scientist from the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation wrote

Even for those who have read Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science the number of accusations of malpractice and/or incompetence against the EPA in the last few months is staggering. The EPA is clearly a dysfunctional agency no longer able to live up to its mandate. It's time for that to change. Hopefully the political will for that to happen will return after the United States presidential election in November.

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