Honestly, I think the EPA logo is downright charming. I might even be tempted to call it “cute.” It’s also imaginative. Everybody likes flowers, blue water, lush green landscapes. All of those things are suggested by it but let’s not be fooled. The Environmental Protection Agency is a mighty federal bureaurocracy with far-reaching powers that its minions are not afraid to use. Its new war cry, found prominently displayed on its blog website, is “Environmental Justice in Action.” I’m not afraid of the motto, but it scares the heck out of me to hear about the actions being justified in its name. You see, the problem with government slogans and logos is that there are always men and women with badges and guns standing behind them.
It’s not necessary to repeat the litany of problems associated with the excessive power exercised by the EPA. For a terrific synopsis, I recommend an article by Sen. Rand Paul from August 2011. To read it, click HERE. If the article doesn’t give you chills, then something is wrong with your nervous system.
The Founders of our nation would be devastated by news like that in Paul’s commentary. They would find it difficult to understand how the private property of a Hungarian immigrant could be controlled so severely by bureaucrats in DC that he was jailed for spreading topsoil and sand. Where did such authority come from? It certainly does not exist in the Constitution.
Typically, we get two options from the main political factions when it comes to the Environmental Protection Agency. On the Left we are told that the federal power to control, fine, and even jail citizens is a necessity if we are going to protect the environment that makes life necessary. On the Right we are often told that the EPA should simply go away–it should be abolished. Perhaps so.
I would like to ask what would happen to our ideas about the EPA if we put them into the context of the Constitution as it was intended by those who brought our Republic into existence. Why? Because the Constitution is the highest law of the land. As an American I make no bones about it: my greatest civil loyalty is to the Constitution. While I mean no disrespect to our country’s governmental system or its national symbols, the Constitution comes before the Flag, the courts, and every office in the land. It delineates rights believed to be pre-existent to the existence of the State. It guarantees those rights but it does not grant them because the authority for their existence is higher than the Constitution. It resides with Providence. It resides with the very nature of what it means to be human.
The Founders knew that unforeseen problems would arise in the nation. They never intended to prevent the federal government from handling those situations. Liberals often take unfair jabs at the Constitution by calling it insufficient or out of date. Back in February, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg told an Egyptian interviewer that Egypt should not look to the US Constitution as an example for its government. (One wonders why she took a vow to uphold something she finds inadequate.) Our Constitition is only out of date to those who want a bigger, more powerful federal government–though it is already evident that big government has been the rule for far too long anyway.
Could the EPA function in a truly constitutional sense, in a way that is faithful to the limitations the Founders put upon the power of the central government? Yes. But you can only understand this if you understand the constitutional paradigm: power belongs primarily to the People and the States. In a constitutional sense, the EPA can be a valuable tool only if it serves the States and the People. It cannot dictate to the States and the People.
Let’s use an example close to home. There is an electricity-producing facility in Gulfport, Mississippi, known as the Jack Watson Generating Plant. It is owned by the Southern Company. Should the EPA be able to tell the plant owners how to operate? I would argue that it cannot. That authority is reserved to the States and the People by the Constitution. There is much wisdom in this. If citizens see a problem with the Jack Watson Plant they can approach their representatives whose offices are just down the street or, in the case of the state capital, never more than just a few hours away by car. This is a direct, simple, and democratically-inspired methodology for handling environmental issues.
Speaking hypothetically, what if the good people of Louisiana (just next door) discover that there are pollutants in their air or water that they believe to be caused by this plant? By the limitations of the US Constitution, they should approach their own officials in Louisiana, not the federal government. Then the State of Louisiana could open a conversation with the State of Mississippi for a resolution. Should they come to a quick resolve, all is settled. If they are unable to do so, however, they could turn to the EPA for assistance and arbitration. Constitutionally, the EPA could not intervene unless invited by both parties. If that were not possible then the matter would simply go to a federal court. In this hypothetical example, if the EPA were a servant agency to Louisiana and Mississippi as a objective mediator, it’s possible that litigation would be avoided and the taxpayers of both states could save millions of dollars in court costs.
I’ll go one step further in my argument. I believe the problems in Europe are compounded by the fact that when the European Union was formed the individual nations (in the US we call them “States”) ceded far too much power to the centralized government (the European Parliament). I was shocked when I visited Italy a few years ago after being away since the early 1990s. The pride of Italy was palpably wounded. The Italian tricolor flag took second place to the EU flag. Italians know best what Italy needs. Mississippians know best what Mississippi needs.
Cooperation is good. Unity between nations (States) is good. Centralized concentrations of power not so much. In the US, we need to return to constitutional thinking. The paradigm of the US Constitution is effective and powerful. If you aren’t convinced, it’s probably because you haven’t seen it in action in your lifetime. It remains a potent source for renewed economic and political vitality if only we would reclaim it and once again make it our own.