The EPA’s renegade policies must be reined in

Published 10:18 pm Friday, June 5, 2015

The Alabama Legislature took an important step toward reining in a rogue federal department this week when it approved a joint resolution opposing certain anti-business activities of the Environmental Protection Agency in Alabama.

When President Richard Nixon established the EPA in 1970, it served a valuable purpose as decades of lax environmental oversight had resulted in measurable damage to air quality, water quality, soil erosion, and other concerns. In the 45 years since, businesses, farmers, and other industries have implemented strong safeguards and protections, and I think we can all agree that the environment has improved greatly in that period.

But despite those dramatic improvements, the EPA continues to demand more restrictive rules and regulations that hamstring business, stymie job growth, and do irreparable harm to our economy. One example of this EPA overreach is currently attacking several industries that operate in Birmingham, Alabama.

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A few years ago, one section of north Birmingham was declared a federal Superfund site, which provides the EPA with broad authority to clean up industrial pollution that they claim has built up over time. In their overzealous effort, EPA officials are seeking to punish businesses which have legally permitted air emissions. Specifically, the EPA is alleging that these permitted air emissions are somehow impacting the Superfund site.

The EPA’s current policy would be like finding a piece of trash in your yard, driving across town, picking five houses at random, and knocking on the doors to accuse the owners of allowing the trash to somehow blow from their home to yours. Imagine how you would react, in this comparison, if someone chose to knock upon your door.

Now you have a sense of how the targeted business owners must feel.

The EPA’s “air deposition” theory that emissions can travel for miles like fairy dust, land by coincidence on an already contaminated site, and cause additional identifiable pollution is preposterous at best and knowingly false at worst.

It is obvious that the EPA is seeking to revitalize urban neighborhoods surrounding Birmingham’s 35th Avenue Superfund site by using dollars that are hijacked from the targeted industries, which seems to be less about environmental mitigation and more about engaging in a social engineering experiment.

The members of the Alabama Legislature, who are focused on job creation, industrial recruitment, and creating a positive business environment, understand the innate unfairness of the EPA’s stance, which is why the joint resolution resulted.

In its measure, the Legislature also commended the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for fairly balancing its regulatory functions with the needs and concerns of businesses that employ millions of citizens across the state. And ADEM, recognizing the economically harmful and environmentally unnecessary after-effects of the EPA’s actions, has publicly opposed including the Birmingham site on the agency’s list of priority sites.

With the combined efforts of the governor, the attorney general, the Legislature, and the state’s congressional delegation, Alabama can be successful in beating back the attempted usurpation of authority and force the EPA to operate within the established rules and guidelines that govern it.

Alabama has experienced tremendous success in recruiting industries that provide long-lasting, well-paying, 21st century jobs. Our continually expanding automotive and aviation manufacturing sectors are just two examples of our successes on that front, but if the EPA is allowed to continue its renegade policies, our industrial recruitment advances could soon turn into retreats.

And that is a fight we cannot afford to lose.

William J. Canary is president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, a statewide business advocacy organization and the exclusive representative in Alabama to the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.