A New Environment: Braking the Green Machine

By Henderson, Rick | Reason, February 1995 | Go to article overview

A New Environment: Braking the Green Machine


Henderson, Rick, Reason


On the environmental front, for libertarians, conservatives, and other property-rights and sound-science buffs, a little celebration is in order. After all, three of the biggest enemies of liberty and sensible environmental policy in the House of Representatives--California Democratic chairmen Henry Waxman, George Miller, and Norm Mineta--have turned in their gavels and lost their subpoena powers.

But it's not time to get cocky. The 104th Congress will not board up the Environmental Protection Agency or defund the Fish and Wildlife Service. Right now, such moves would certainly fail and would be bad politics. Though the term environmentalist has become almost meaningless, we all want to be one. For most folks, talk of repealing environmental laws conjures up scary images--the Bhopal chemical-plant disaster, the Exxon Valdez spill, or Reagan administration Interior Secretary James Watt.

It will take time to convince the general public that being environmentally conscious does not require massive regulations. Republicans and sympathetic Democrats should start implementing what former Rep. Don Ritter, founder and chairman of the National Environmental Policy Institute, calls "reinventing the process of environmental regulation." Devolving environmental decision making to states, municipalities, and individuals, and replacing hidebound regulations with more innovative approaches could eventually result in effective environmental policies that don't stifle individual freedom. And even if the GOP loses its congressional majorities in 1996, procedural changes this year could help bring environmental extremism under control.

So here's a game plan for the next two years:

1) Pass the "unholy trinity" provisions in the Contract With America, but cover your posteriors. The contract includes provisions on risk assessment, unfunded mandates, and unconstitutional takings of private property--three issues that could so constrain environmental regulations that greens call them an "unholy trinity."

The trinity components of the contract could revolutionize the regulatory process, especially in environmental policy. One section of the contract's Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act requires a "regulatory impact analysis" of any new federal rule that affects more than 100 persons or will cost individuals or nonfederal agencies more than $1 million to enforce.

The property-rights component in the contract would require the federal government to compensate property owners if any new regulation reduces the value of their land by more than 10 percent.

A third section would require the budget director and the Congressional Budget Office to develop a "mandate budget" to estimate how much money states, municipalities, and individuals pay to implement unfunded mandates, the regulations Congress passes without providing money to pay for enforcement. This proposal would place mandates on a level playing field with appropriated programs such as the National Endowment for the Arts or Pell Grants; if mandates are projected to run over budget, Congress will have to reduce them.

If passed, these three provisions would require regulators to set priorities before they issue new rules, give a greater role to scientific analysis in assessing risk, and allow individuals and government officials to be flexible in their approaches to environmental problems rather than obeying rigid mandates from Washington. They would also begin what the NEPI's Ritter calls a "reinvention" of federal environmental policy, making it more market oriented and less hidebound.

Yet these are radical departures from the Beltway's standard procedures. Greens will push the White House to veto them. So it's also wise to have backup bills in place.

Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-La.) has offered a takings-compensation bill that would mandate compensation whenever regulations reduced a landowner's property value by more than 50 percent. …

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