On The Latest Executive Order: Environmental Regulations Vs. Business Freedom

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 51

Ever since I first heard this quote in my eleventh grade AP Gov. class, I have been dying to fit it into an article. Finally, that glorious day has come!

What do you think? You like it? A quote from a Founding Father definitely gives a piece that certain ‘je ne sais quoi,’ you know? A real sparkle. And it is perfect here, especially in its original context — but I’m getting ahead of myself. You’ll see.

Let’s talk about the EPA, shall we? Aka the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States of America.  

I can practically hear half of you mutter, “No, um, let’s actually not.” I get that. I hear you. When President Trump signed that executive order last week, most people’s reaction basically reflected how they feel about the EPA in general: that is, a lot of the lingo (Chief of the Chair of the Regulation of the OBM Council for Committee Titles, etc.) and science-ey talk (I am not a chemist, guys) makes for kind of a dense read, so we tend to fall back to the basics (which is usually the opinion of our peers):

“I love the environment and therefore I love the EPA and HATE this executive order!”

Or:

“I love the environment, too, but I hate big government; the EPA has abused its power and I LOVE this executive order!”

Or:

“I hate the environment! Let’s light everything on fire!”

Well, in all fairness, that last one was just the arsonists, and that’s their response to pretty much everything.

Hey, guys, I’m not here to judge (except kind of the arsonists). If you’ve read any of my stuff, I’m sure you can easily guess which camp I fell into. No, I’m not going to spoil it, I’m a professional; you’ll just have to go read all my other work (see what I did there?).

But when I was put to the task of reporting on how much environmental regulations affect businesses, I came to the very humbling realization that I didn’t much understand this new order; I’d formed an opinion without much actual research (*hangs head in shame*)(*implores you to constantly fact-check your own beliefs*).

Thankfully, that can be remedied.

According to their website, the EPA’s mission is to “protect human health and the environment,” which they do by developing and enforcing regulations, giving out grants (which make up about half their budget, according to the site), studying environmental issues, sponsoring partnerships, educating the public and publishing information.

Since they’re a federal agency, they do this across the country; after all, air, water, and CO2 emissions don’t really recognize state lines. If one state messes up the air, their neighbor’s gonna cough. On the other hand, having that much power also means bigger mistakes can happen. When the agency comes under fire for issues like the Flint Water Crisis and the Gold King Mine Spill, they look a lot less trustworthy.

If they’re not seen as trustworthy, then all those regulations (which make things difficult for many businesses) are a lot harder to stomach. Welcome to the second part of that sparkly James Madison quote:

“If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

This has essentially been our biggest problem since our country’s inception: Men aren’t angels, so we really do need government, but if men are governing, they’re going to need to be monitored, too. How much power should the government have? How should it be kept in check? When will we just put women in charge?

(Kidding.)

(Kind of.)

Rather tricky, that. Hence many folks’ frustration with some of the environmental regulations put in place by the EPA and the Obama administration, leading to the executive order signed by President Trump on March 28th.

The order covers a lot of stuff, but one industry that seems to particularly benefit is coal. Coal, used to produce electricity, accounts for about 21% of our nation’s energy production, and coal miners made up some of President Trump’s most vocal supporters during the campaign. Much of this order is about rolling back regulations on coal: getting rid of the moratorium on coal leasing, dismantling the Clean Power Plan, and reconsidering the carbon standards for new coal plants. While the Obama administration worked hard to step away from coal as an energy source, the Trump administration is building it up in order to save the jobs of those coal miners who supported him.

Unfortunately, many (many, many) critics, and even a coal CEO, argue that nothing President Trump does can save those jobs. The coal industry, according to these sources, is dying because of economics — not regulations. Natural gas is much cheaper, and solar energy is getting pretty cheap, too. While many supporters of the executive order argue that renewable energy (solar, wind, etc) is too expensive to be realistic, the World Economic Forum recently reported that in 2016, solar and wind were cheaper than fossil fuels! (Friendly reminder, ‘fossil fuels’ includes coal and gas) There are even, reportedly, twice as many workers in the solar industry now as in the coal industry. Talk about job growth!

Environmental regulations do put stress on businesses. But guys, a lot of regulations put stress on a lot of businesses. Legal regulations put stress drug barons, okay, but we’re not lifting those regulations to ‘create more jobs.’

CALM DOWN, I am not saying that coal miners are drug barons; I’m saying the government is in the business of regulating stuff for the greater good. That’s kind of the point. The balance, of course, has been — and always will be — figuring out just how much we allow it.

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 51

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