In the past 40 years we have cleaned up the environment “and transformed the average American businessman from an uncaring profiteer into a concerned fellow citizen,” writes Rich Trzupek in the introduction to “Regulators Gone Wild,” a book that attempts to make a case for loosening environmental regulations (because they are stymieing American industry’s ability to create wealth).
On one hand, Trzupek (a chemist and consultant at Mostardi Platt Environmental) praises U.S. environmental programs, which he describes as “set[ting] the standard for the rest of the world.” On the other, he argues that environmental regulators—enabled by an ignorant mainstream media “largely populated by reporters who flunked every science course they might have been forced to take”—are using scare tactics to sell the public on more regulation, while overreacting to the minor environmental threats that remain. “In the absence of any actual damage to the environment, they are content to turn the slightest misdemeanor into the ecological equivalent of homicide,” he says.
It’s unusual to find a book in which the author refutes his own arguments, sometimes within the span of just a few pages. For instance, at the beginning of chapter one, Trzupek insists that environmental groups “will be the last to admit that progress has been made,” because “in their world, nothing could be worse than progress.” Yet in the following chapter, he highlights how the EPA “trumpeted” the elimination of lead from gasoline, which EPA Administrator Carol Browner described as “one of the great environmental achievements of our time.”
Of course, Trzupek is correct in saying that we have made tremendous strides in terms of cleaning up the environment in the past four decades, particularly in terms of limiting pollution from point sources (distinct, identifiable sources, such as smokestacks). He’s also right in saying that squeezing industry may not be the most effective means of making further environmental gains.
To be sure, it would make more sense to update statutes to focus on minimizing pollution from non-point sources (which occurs when rainfall or snowmelt moves over and through the ground, picking up and carrying away pollutants, then depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters, and reservoirs). Yet in the past few decades, Congress has consistently failed to address the ever-changing and evolving threats to our environment, and despite Trzupek’s apparent fears about Barack Obama and his administration, we haven’t seen an environmentally-friendly president since, well, Richard Nixon.
Notably, Trzupek doesn’t shy away from directly addressing hot-button environmental issues—climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, for instance. “Pollution from coal-fired power plants accounts for millions of tons a year of pollution,” he admits, but the frightening numbers are nothing to worry about because “the public at-large does not realize how big the atmosphere is,” a statement which strikes me as laugh-out-loud silly.
Meanwhile, Trzupek dismisses the current controversy surrounding hydraulic fracturing, emphasizing that the chemicals utilized in fracking fluid “represent a very small fraction of the whole,” and noting that the formations containing gas and oil are far below drinking water aquifers. Both statements may be true, but he ignores the many ways that fracking can still result in water pollution, not to mention air pollution.
In the end, though, Trzupek’s main complaint about environmental regulations is that they are inconvenient and reduce corporate profits. He makes no bones about the fact that he sees environmental regulations as “a silent killer, a cancer slowly eating away at the most productive parts of society.” That’s curious language considering that the regulations exist largely to protect human health.
Even more provocative is the following statement, which will be news to many readers: “We have been so successful in cleaning up America that people feel compelled to invent environmental problems to solve. However, that is where we are in 2011.” If you believe Trzupek, that is.