It hasn’t been a good week for the Environmental Protection Agency, and today’s Washington Post editorial page didn’t make it any better.
On Monday, EPA Region VI Administrator Al Armendariz resigned after video emerged in which he likened the agency’s “philosophy of enforcement” to Roman crucifixions. Today, The Post took up the issue of the EPA’s zealous enforcement overreach and slammed the agency for “earning a reputation for abuse.” On Armendariz’s “Roman” Remarks, The Post opined:
The most reasonable interpretation is also among the most disturbing — that Mr. Armendariz preferred to exact harsh punishments on an arbitrary number of firms to scare others into cooperating. This sort of talk isn’t merely unjust and threatening to investors in energy projects. It hurts the EPA…
Maintaining the legitimacy of the EPA’s broad regulatory authorities requires the agency to use its powers fairly and, in so doing, avoid the impression that its enforcement is capricious or unduly severe. Mr. Armendariz’s comments violated the latter principle.
The Post also discussed Sackett v. the EPA — a property rights case in which the agency barred the Sackett family from building a home on a vacant lot in a subdivision, relying on its authority under the Clean Water Act. That law grants the EPA jurisdiction over “wetlands,” and in this case they decided that the Sackett’s property fit the definition — even though almost every other lot surrounding the property was developed. The issue of whether the Sacketts had authority to challenge the EPA went to the Supreme Court, and in March the Court ruled that they could, in fact, challenge the EPA’s orders. The Post wrote that this is yet another example of EPA overreach:
[T]he agency ought to have asked itself years ago whether it really needed to hassle a couple seeking to build a home in an existing subdivision, helping to justify every negative caricature of the EPA that Republican presidential hopefuls peddled during the primary race. Perhaps the agency would have been able to keep more of its regulatory power if it had been more judicious.
The lesson for Ms. Jackson and her boss, President Obama, from these two episodes is clear: The agency’s officers must have a clear sense when to deploy its mighty power and when to exercise discretion.
As Armendariz showed, though, the EPA isn’t interested in discretion — the agency is bent on wielding its power beyond the extent of the law in order to enact the president’s agenda. Thanks to Armendariz’s video, we have that admission on record, but the truth was already evidenced by the EPA’s abusive actions.