Book Review: Regulators Gone Wild
This book could not have been published at a more propitious time. As the economy falters, it seems that every critic of this administration cites the role of regulation in strangling American business and industry–thereby preventing them from hiring new workers. Rich Trzupek, a chemist and environmental consultant for twenty five years, provides much needed chapter and verse, focusing on the devastation wrought by what has become the most abusive agency in the government alphabet soup–the EPA. Interwoven with the discussion of the EPA’s increasingly off-the-wall and often counterproductive regulations, Trzupek provides stories of the real people and companies who are its victims. For example, he tells the story of a retired gentleman who invested his savings in a six unit apartment building in Chicago. This gentleman hired a professional management company to look after the property. Under the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992, sellers and landlords of dwellings built before 1978 must provide a form disclosing the presence of lead-based paint on the premises. The management company goofed, failing to send tenants the required form. The Illinois EPA, discovering this omission, demanded over $140,000 in penalties from the owner. This staggering punishment clearly did not fit the supposed crime –and in fact, in this case, there was no crime at all, for the buildings had no lead paint. All that was involved was an inadvertent paperwork mistake. The EPA was immovable. The owner eventually succeeded in having the fine significantly reduced, but only at the cost of huge legal bills from an environmental lawyer who took on the regulatory behemoth.
Trzupek shows that both the regulations themselves and the process of implementing them are badly flawed. As the above case illustrates, penalties are unrelated to damage done, merely to paperwork, and given the mountains of paperwork the EPA requires, especially of larger companies, with the best of intentions, it is hard to avoid some failure in that area. And the EPA goes for the jugular. Moreover, companies have to deal with moving targets. No sooner is a goal achieved for a pollutant than the EPA lowers the standard–and the company finds itself suddenly out of compliance. Then there’s CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, under whose terms the EPA can pluck millions out of industry pockets. It doesn’t matter if a given company made only the most miniscule contribution, say, to a hazardous waste site, if it’s a big company, for the EPA it’s like hitting the jackpot in Vegas, because the company can be held responsible for the entire cleanup costs.
As for the regulations themselves, as time has gone by and there has been a radical reduction in pollution, they have become ever more stringent to ever less purpose. Under a current EPA proposal, to quote Trzupek, “many potentially toxic pollutants will have to be controlled so tightly that no one will be able to find them. That is one step removed from setting emissions limits at zero, and just about as unrealistic and unachievable a goal.”
Trzupek writes of the scare tactics used by what he calls the environmental industry, an apt term for the so-called environmental watch dog groups like the NRDC, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth etc., who have the media and to a large extent the EPA itself, in their pocket. They are never satisfied, never praise the achievements that have been made in cleaner air and water, foment public fear and hysteria as a way of staying relevant–and rich in donations from a public convinced of dire environmental peril. Global warming is the most recent false scare promoted by the environmental industry and if you are not already a skeptic on that subject, Trzupek’s cogent chapter “There’s Nothing Cool About Global Warming” should make you one.
Read this book. It will make you mad, And a great many people will have to be mad–so they will organize to do something, if sanity is to be restored and American industry saved from its regulator-destroyers .