The Magazine


Jan 19, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 18 • By DAVE JUDAY
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Rep. Bob Smith, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, remarked in a recent hearing that the EPA's own data indicate that most of the "fine particulate matter" it wishes to regulate comes from agricultural sources. Indeed, one of the agency's stated goals is to make "reasonable progress" in reducing haze over 156 parks and wilderness areas across the country. Such areas -- especially in the West -- are much likelier to be surrounded by farms than by factories, which is why the chief researcher in the National Park Service's Air Quality Division freely admits that he considers agriculture a principal source of haze.

The larger issue is, Why does the EPA administrator believe she can confer on herself the authority to target certain sectors for enforcement while granting indulgences for others? If for this reason alone, Congress should challenge the regulations, or at least Administrator Browner. She cannot keep her word to farmers even if she would like to: It will be state agencies, not the EPA, that will decide how to meet the new federal standards. The EPA will hold the states accountable only for aggregate standards, without regard to discrete sectors.

Browner, though, is confident that Congress will not call her bluff. She recognizes that Republicans run notoriously scared on environmental issues, particularly in election years.

In 1996, for example, the administration championed a book called Our Stolen Future, written by a trio of environmental activists. The book, which boasted a foreword by Vice President Al Gore, asserted that pesticides cause "endocrine disruption," leading to aberrant sexual development, behavioral problems, and other ills. The EPA praised the work for "drawing public attention to an environmental problem which has long concerned the Clinton Administration."

Yet the endocrine-disruption theory is purely conjectural, at best. Even the book's authors concede that they cannot prove what they allege, and that they may never be able to do so. Moreover, evidence suggests that food naturally contains as much as 40 million times the endocrine-disruption potential as synthetic pesticide residue.

Even so, the Republican Congress went all wobbly over the issue, ramming through pesticide legislation based on nothing more than a fringe theory. In so doing, it handed the EPA a powerful new tool for mischief: The agency can now keep any and all pesticides off the market by subjecting them to endless and pointless testing.

This year, with its clean-air regulations, the EPA is poised to do much the same, using the same playbook: phony health claims and fictitious science aimed at winning more regulatory power for the EPA. This time, though, Congress should see it coming and mount a defense. The new regulations, according to some estimates, could cost the country as much as $ 150 billion, with no discernible improvement in air quality or public health whatever. Fool Congress once, shame on the EPA; fool Congress twice, shame on Congress. Excuses will not suffice. Republicans should buckle their chin straps.

Dave Juday is an exporter of agricultural products and an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.