Of late, it seems the Environmental Protection Agency has been acting like a misbehaved child—recklessly doing what it wants at the expense of others without any supervision. And just as parents punish children by taking away their allowance, Congress should do the same to the EPA and cut its budget.

Cutting the EPA’s budget does not mean a world of unchecked polluters and environmental degradation in America. Tightening the agency’s purse will rein in the EPA’s heavy-handed, unilateral reach into the economy.

EPA’s $8 billion-per-year budget has remained steady through the last decade, (see table 5.1) with some significant peaks from the Obama stimulus package. But the EPA has a disproportionately large impact on Americans in terms of both freedom and economic burden that is passed on to states, localities and individuals. It issued 21 major regulations with annual compliance costs of $37.8 billion in President Obama’s first term alone.

Shrinking the EPA budget, then, is more about returning the federal government to a more acceptable size and empowering states and individuals to once again take care of the environment, as they have proven they can do successfully.

Reducing the EPA’s budget and regulatory reach isn’t a question of choosing between clean or unsafe air, water and lands. It’s about putting management back into the right hands. States have unique incentive to manage the environment and have networks that are much bigger and more varied than EPA’s, especially given the size of the area EPA is trying to manage compared to individual states.

Innovation and the free market promote prosperity and improve environmental quality, not command and control under the premise of “partnerships” with and “flexibility” for the states.

Congress should prevent the EPA from implementing regulations that will drive up living costs for American families for little, if any, environmental benefit. These include:

Further, Congress should cut back EPA spending and eliminate programs that are either wasteful, duplicative or simply not the role of the federal government. A first cut at the EPA’s budget would save $1.38 billion from the FY2013 Continuing Resolution numbers. Programs that Congress should cut immediately include:

  • Oil spill programs (Savings from FY2013: $15.3 million). The onus to prepare, prevent and clean up oil spills should be on oil companies, not taxpayers. In fact, the fines received from the Deepwater Horizon spill should offset some of the need for taxpayers to foot the bill for the EPA. According to the agency’s budget support document, the EPA obtained $1.1 billion in federal administrative and civil judicial penalties in FY 2013—a record $1 billion of it from Transocean for its liability in the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s 1/8th of the agency’s entire budget. Some money may be necessary to enforce and administer laws and for immediate response, but the large majority of oil spill cleanup activities should be devolved to the state and local level.
  • Climate Protection Program (Savings: $47.8 million) The Air, Climate and Energy program spends money on climate reporting, assessing climate impacts, state and local technical assistance programs and on biofuels research. We shouldn’t have a biofuel program to begin with, and the EPA definitely does not need one since the Department of Energy operates several. Moreover, the EPA’s budget justification says money is available to enable “the EPA to investigate the impact of a changing climate on air pollution emissions at a reduced level.” In other words, the EPA not only wants to impose regulations that cost Americans billions but reduce global temperatures by less than a degree, it wants more money to measure that change.
  • Leasing Underutilized Space (Savings: approximately $21 million) According to a 2013 EPA Inspector General report, the agency could save more than $21 million by leasing underutilized space.
  • Grant programs and Information Exchange/Outreach: (Savings: $1.14 billion) The EPA should not be funding Environmental Education Grants and other grant programs such as job training grant programs. EPA has allocated taxpayer money to projects that educate and increase awareness about stewardship. Previous education money has gone toward funding for poster contests that have included contests on sun protection, asthma awareness and radon. The majority of grants have been awarded to nonprofits with schools being a distant second, and the most popular topics are biodiversity and general “environmental literacy.” Even the Obama administration has recognized a need to cut back on revolving state grants, reducing its FY2014 budget request by $581 million.
  • Clean Diesel Program (savings: approximately $30 million) Only $30 million was authorized for the EPA’s clean diesel program in 2012, but hundreds of millions have been spent over the years to develop more than 60,000 pieces of clean diesel technology, such as “emissions and idle control devices, aerodynamic equipment, engine and vehicle replacements, and alternative fuel options.” If these technologies are economically viable and consumer demand exists, these products will be developed without the help of taxpayers.
  • Regional programs that state and local governments should own and manage ($124.5 million). The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of the Interior, Department of State, Department of Transportation … and the EPA. Both the Obama administration and Republicans support cuts for GLRI, the entirety of which should be phased out and/or transitioned fully to state ownership.
  • Environmental Justice (Savings: $7.3 million) The EPA’s environmental justice program is unnecessary and spends money superfluously, such as the $1.6 million it spent on a hotel for a conference this June or the $1.2 million for the “Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Cooperative Agreement Program.” Congress should eliminate this program.

The proposed cuts outlined here merely scratch the surface of a rogue agency that has wildly spent and regulated outside its purview. It’s time for Congress to step up and rein in the agency, and a healthy round of budget-cutting is a good place to start.