Was it always this way?

Theres at least one thing that the EPA has not changed in 35 years.

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency recently celebrated is 35th anniversary, which you may think is either a good thing or a bad thing, but I’m not going to take a position on that. I take this as a fact of life, at least in part because I cannot remember a time when it was not a part of the federal landscape.

And that permanence, I think, is part of the problem. The EPA has no doubt been a part of many good developments, but it takes too much credit for good results and like many government bodies does not acknowledge its shortcomings or limitations.

On the occasion of the anniversary, we received a message (read it here) from one of EPA’s regional administrators — Robert W. Varney of the New England region — that reviews all of the things the agency counts as its great achievements. It’s not my intention to criticize

Varney, but I think his message reveals why so many individuals in the manufacturing sector (and other markets, too, like real estate development, construction, and transportation) are less enthusiastic supporters of the EPA.

“EPA’s creation, and its mission to protect human health and the nation’s environment, was hastened by the existence of rampant and highly visible pollution — rivers that literally burned and flowed with human and industrial waste, towns built upon toxic waste sites, and lethal air pollution.” As I said, I don’t have a thorough memory of everything going on 35 years ago, but the point of this flashback seems to be that things would still be smoking, seeping, and stinking today if we had not the EPA in place to make it all stop.

This will be a surprise to all the researchers and engineers who over the years have developed new industrial technologies to perform critical functions in ways that are less environmentally alarming. In metalcasting alone, this would include processes for coremaking, melting, pouring, and finishing, just to name a few essential steps. To suggest that every one of these processes would have remained exactly the same as they were in 1970 is to ignore the fact that other forces also drive technological progress: competition, market preference, and material substitution have also wrought changes in metalcasting.

That EPA and its proponents have a blinkered view of their impact will be no surprise to lots of readers, but it may be worse than that. “Today, EPA’s success depends more than ever on working with increasingly capable and environmentally conscious partners,” Varney wrote. “Unlike 35 years ago, state and local governments now leverage considerable expertise and resources towards environmental protection. These governments often need more of EPA’s help as a partner. This means providing them with new, flexible solutions and the scientific and technical support they need to meet environmental goals.”

Well, I suspect that the foundries and diecasters that have relocated out of California and other places where it’s no longer possible to operate might use a different term than “partner” to describe the way they’ve been addressed by EPA and state/local environmental authorities.

I want to be clear I’m not quibbling over any particular EPA action, or even the necessity of monitoring and regulating environmental impact. Nor am I addressing Varney, who no doubt has done a lot to recommend him for his administrative role.

I am saying this: the EPA is a federal agency that uses its government standing to identify and heighten or diminish problems, sometimes as political needs dictate. It can leverage prosecutions or costly settlements, depending on the discretion of its administrators.

But, the EPA is unlike other government authorities in the sense that a particular idealism is allowed to shape the agenda. It’s left to others — researchers, engineers, manufacturers — to come up with solutions that meet their goals, or suffer the consequences.

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