The EPA Finally Leaves Well Enough Alone

By getting in the way of something that should be stopped: another government agency.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

In an unusual blow against a big federal flood-control project, the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday rejected a proposal to build a huge water pump intended to reduce flooding in the Mississippi Delta, saying it would have had an "unacceptable, adverse" impact on thousands of acres of wetlands. The agency's decision to kill the $220 million Yazoo Pumps Project marks only the 12th time that the EPA has exercised its power under the 1972 Clean Water Act to veto projects that could harm water supplies, wildlife or recreational or fishing areas.  [emphasis added]

Rarely do we see a news report that, if you look just slightly past the surface, contains such a depth of transcendent truth.  Truth is not generally associated with government programs in general, most particularly ones involving waterways, but here we see, at a minimum, three great and enlightening points to ponder.

Who Watches the Watchers?

Over the four decades of its existence, the EPA has earned a dire reputation as an overwhelming obstacle to development, progress, and economic activity of any sort.  Under the aegis of protecting clear air, fresh water, and various animals, EPA regulators have slowly but surely eroded longstanding private property rights.

Today's Americans find it commonplace for the government to flatly forbid someone to farm, improve, or otherwise develop their own land, whereas generations past would have first laughed and then reached for the nearest firearm if a bureaucrat dared to tell them what they could and could not do with their own property.  Today's EPA follows in this un-American tradition, as it attempts to wield the Endangered Species act as a bludgeon against economic activity of any sort, by wrongly declaring polar bears to be endangered.  It even directly rebels against the stated policies of America's elected leaders, who have been given the authority to make executive decisions by voters based on principles spelled out in the United States Constitution.

As busy as it is in stymieing the efforts of Americans to better themselves and their country, there is one major area where even the most destructive of projects are given a free pass: government programs.  In forty years, with hundreds and thousands of private projects destroyed by EPA fiat at vast expense to their unfortunate owners, there have been barely one dozen occasions of the EPA stopping a project sponsored by a government agency?

Particularly in New Orleans, government construction is famed for making environmental problems worse; it would be hard to find a modern project of the Army Corps of Engineers that hasn't.  Yet the EPA, home to greens of the most verdant hue, makes not a peep.

Apparently environmental destruction is perfectly fine as long as its done at the behest of fellow bureaucrats, paid for by your tax dollars at vast public expense.  It's only when the project is by private enterprise, for the benefit of the economy, that it ought to be opposed.

If there were any doubt as to whether the EPA bureaucracy is well-meaning in its desire to protect the environment, this fact of their permitting wanton destruction of the environment by the government should put it to rest.

To all appearances, the EPA is surely right to shut down this outlandishly expensive project, the result of which would be to ruin yet more "wetlands".  The question is, why hasn't it done so countless times before?

It would seem the old dictum of "honor among thieves" extends to bureaucrats as well.  They're happy to watch everything you do, but they don't care to interfere with each other.

Big Government Is Not The Solution

Another fascinating truth revealed in this article is that throwing big-government money at problems tends not to solve them, in fact, it makes them worse.  As we've discussed before, a good deal of the Katrina destruction was exacerbated by ill-conceived government projects; three years on, the BBC reports, the same problem still exists.

Could it be that the EPA has finally decided that when it comes to the power of water, at least, we ought to have a little humility and not think that we can engineer exceptions to the laws of gravity?  Yes, a 14,000-cubic-feet-per-second pumping station is a very impressive piece of engineering.  But once it's pumped water from one place to another, where does the water go then?  Apparently this pumping station just chucks the water over the side and hopes for the best.

If the state of Louisiana is truly concerned about flooding, there is a solution that has been tried successfully for centuries: landfill.  Raise the level of the ground above the level of the water and you won't get wet.  Children building sandcastles on the beach can figure this out, but not enough expensive consultants can be justified with this approach, so our government doesn't do it anymore.

One hundred years ago, American government was both wiser, and more humble.  After a ferocious 1900 hurricane destroyed the city of Galveston, Texas, in much the same way that Katrina destroyed New Orleans, the Galveston city fathers declared, "Never again!"

But they didn't immediately demand that the Federal government pay the cost.  They certainly didn't trust the Army Corps of Engineers to design a fancy solution; and they definitely didn't ask the opinion of the EPA.  They built a 17-foot-high seawall, jacked up the entire city to the same height, and filled it in with sea-sand.

Now that's the way to make sure you don't get wet!  Since then, Galveston has endured hurricanes and even taken wind damage, but the city hasn't been washed away.  Problem solved, by local action and straightforward engineering.

If we must save New Orleans, why can't we do it the same way?  Because landfill would actually solve the problem.  The more money the New Orleans bureaucrats are permitted to spend not solving the problem, the more we'll let them spend recovering from the next hurricane.

Gridlock in Action

A look through America's history reveals all sorts of fantastic construction projects, from the Erie Canal and the Apollo program to Eisenhower's interstate highway system and the transcontinental railroad.  For two centuries, Americans were the first in the world in finding a way to better their lives through grand and glorious projects that not only worked, but benefited people's lives.  We wouldn't be the wealthy nation we are today if our forefathers hadn't dug the deep foundations, climbed the high iron, and done all the dirty work required to build a modern infrastructure.

Today, though, we'd rather find reasons why not to do things, or to do economically useless things for politically-correct reasons, than build what we need.  The heavier the dead hand of government regulation weighs down on private enterprise and ingenuity, the less of it you'll get.

In this case, the EPA has done well to stop something bad.  In much the same way, there are people who have been cured of gangrene by amputating their leg.  Yes, they are better off than they would otherwise have been; but, really, the right solution would have been to avoid the gangrene in the first place and keep the leg.

It's funny that our government has gotten so big and intrusive that it trips over itself and we benefit thereby; but funny only in a sad way.  Our great-grandfathers would be ashamed of us.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments
I'm blown away that we would be seriously building a pump to PUMP THE FREAKIN DELTA.

Ummm, is that even possible? I guess if you spend enough money, and Congress has no problems doing that.

September 12, 2008 10:55 AM
I'm not sure that your point here is well reasoned. The EPA did what they did because it would affect wetlands. Not because they suddenly wanted to spend less of the taxpayers money.
September 12, 2008 3:41 PM
"In this case, the EPA has done well to stop something bad"

They were protecting their "wet lands" which is a crock of shit. The EPA doesn't care about their budget. They care about using made u- reasons to rob land owners of their rights.
September 13, 2008 7:36 PM
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