Politics tainted green: EPA uses enforcement as partisan political weapon
By David Ridenour
The Environmental Protection Agency seems to be more concerned about partisan politics these days than protecting the environment.
A case in point is its recent prosecution of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, Inc., the major employer in a small town best known as the home of Smithfield hams.
Last year, the EPA brought a $125 million suit against Smithfield alleging that the company had dumped excessive amounts of waste into the Pagan River, a tributary that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Smithfield eventually was ordered by a U.S. District Court judge to pay $12.6 million in fines, just 10 per cent of what the EPA had sought. An appeal is pending. Both the process by which this fine was imposed and the timing of the suit, however, suggest that the EPA's legal action had more to do with politics than environmental protection.
The EPA's complaint against Smithfield Foods centered on allegations
the company had exceeded its permit limits for discharging phosphorous
and nitrogen into the Pagan River. Smithfield never disputed the charge,
but noted it had written permission from the Commonwealth of Virginia
to exceed those limits under a quid pro quo arrangement with state officials.
The Pagan River may not yet be 100 per cent pure, but it is measurably
cleaner than it was a few years ago and getting cleaner with each passing
day. The Wilder Administration entered into the consent agreement in
part to end a suit by Smithfield challenging new phosphorous limits
imposed in 1988 that the company contended were beyond the ability of
current technology to meet. The Commonwealth of Virginia believed it
had the authority to negotiate such a deal because the federal EPA signed
an agreement in 1975 giving Virginia primary responsibility for enforcing
the Clean Water Act within its borders. What's more, the EPA was well
aware of the consent agreement when it was enacted in 1991 but raised
no objection to it until 1997, which just happened to be an election
year in Virginia.
Unfortunately, such blatant politicking by the EPA is not confined to the Smithfield case. A recent report written by Dr. Bonner Cohen for the National Wilderness Institute documents a clear pattern of political abuse at the EPA. Among the report¹s findings:
With all these political activities, one wonders how effective and, indeed, how just the EPA can be in carrying out its principal mission of safeguarding the environment. Apparently, the nation's top environmental enforcers now need some policing of their own. Congressional oversight committees should take the hint and get their own cops back on the beat.
Courtesy of the The National Center for Public Policy Research.
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