Donald Trump’s proposal to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget predictably proved massively controversial. According to reports, the White House wants to cut the budget for the EPA by 31%—from $8.1 billion down to $5.7 billion.
The general reaction from environmentalists to Trump’s EPA cuts has duly been, “Oh no! The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act will be destroyed! Our country will be horribly polluted because big business manufacturers and fossil fuel companies are going to rape/pollute/destroy our land, water and air and all they will care about is money and profits. They want to privatize everything!!”
Now I’m fairly conservative and against big government as a matter of principle. But I’m also vegan and very concerned with green issues, so the current debate about the EPA and Trump’s budget cuts made me want to investigate further.
The truth, as opposed to the media’s hysteria and enivromental activists’ hyperbole, is more complex. The EPA and various centralized environmental governing regulatory bodies work in more complicated ways than people imagine.
I think everyone would agree regarding resources, energy, waste and pollution, solutions are what is needed, not more arguments. One of our biggest and most immediate challenges is answering the question: “How are we going to fix—or preferably replace—our aging and crumbling infrastructure?”
This is a huge issue, and one that needs addressing sooner rather than later. For it to be answered, green activists need to consider that more government regulation and a bigger EPA in this instance might well not be helpful in implementing the best solutions.
I spoke about this with two experts—top-tier civil engineer David Poulson (of Pace Engineering in Lake Oswego, OR) and Morgan Brown, a former electrical engineer turned green technologies innovator (of Whole Water Systems in Seattle WA). What they said confirmed that that better solutions for our world as a whole—especially with respect to our growing global population—will actually require a certain amount of decentralization, not the other way around.
Most who led the outcry regarding fossil fuels and Trump lifting some of those regulations did not know was that although restrictions existed here in the USA, those weren’t stopping the pollution, as companies were just doubling down by exporting their polluting elsewhere, like to China, India and poor, developing countries.
That’s not a viable solution as obviously we are all on this same Earth.
But when creating infrastructure solutions, significant road blocks arise when dealing with government regulators (especially at the local level) when trying to implement new, green innovative systems that offer cheaper, cleaner, more natural and more efficient means of dealing with issues like the treatment and delivery of potable water (engineer speak for “drinking water”), the treatment and discharge of waste water (sewage and grey water), the treatment of storm water runoff and the production and efficient use of energy.
Poulson explained: “First, the existing infrastructure needs to be maintained—which promotes the perpetual replacement of outdated systems. Second, much of this infrastructure is owned and maintained by (mostly municipal) government.
“The jobs that maintain and operate these utilities represent the livelihood of millions. New innovations means new and required training, or many will lose their jobs.
“Decentralization of utilities means the operation and maintenance can be shifted to private interests (homeowners, private enterprise, etc.) But the irony is that while the government likes to impose increasingly costly environmental regulations on private industry, they are not inclined to impose those similar environmental changes on themselves… because their own jobs are at stake! “
Brown has also faced bureaucratic intransigence when trying to put forward green technologies. “Water and wastewater infrastructure can be very resistive to innovation,” he said. “Healthy water is a sanitation issue and regulators are responsible for health and welfare, so much of the inertia is understandable.
“As an advocate for sustainable development practices, we need to overcome this resistance. Decentralized infrastructure makes sense because it costs less, but also because it is green…with innovation, “no” is easy—it takes motivated developers, policy makers and regulators willing to work together to get to “yes”. The good news is that with more successes, the financial benefits of decentralized become obvious and green just becomes ‘best management practice'”.
Although the EPA and its obsession with taxing new start-ups isn’t helping the situation, the real governmental problem lies at the state and local levels. They are set up to run and expand the infrastructure under their ownership and control. That makes local government risk averse and resistant to new innovation.
This brings us back to private industry. As Poulson explains, “Traditionally, the public pays the government to provide these utilities. However, they do not have the same confidence in private enterprise to be just as dependable. There is a real concern about bad private business, corruption, extortion, bankruptcy—you name it.
“So even though these new environmental technologies exist and are proven, how does society ensure the safety and effectiveness of that new technology? If decentralization is the goal, how do we assure the community that there’s enough local “adult supervision” in place to take care of it?
“For instance, right now we spend 70-80% on just collecting and conveying our water and wastewater and only 20 -30% treating it. It is a colossal waste of money, energy and water resource. Decentralization can turn that around and provide greater efficiency in terms of resources and sustainability, but getting the public on the same page is very problematic.”
He added the only real solution lies in the development of “public-private partnerships” (PPP). Public-private partnerships provide financial incentives to private industry to design, construct and potentially operate new systems. As part of that process, private industry could train public employees to handle the new technologies. Then, when public operation becomes possible or after a predetermined amount of time, the transfer back to the public occurs. This is called a PPP BOT (a public-private partnership with a build operate transfer provision).
Poulson and Morgan convinced me that decentralization and innovation are the key to a better, cleaner, cheaper, more efficient world.
But how will we get there? Encouraging PPP make the most sense. They unite both sides of the political spectrum since both the private and public sectors would be working together. If the Trump administration embraces PPP while ensuring the government supplies enough supervision and clarity, the hyperbolic predictions of liberal eco-warriors will prove in time to be absurdly alarmist.
As for the EPA, personally I see the cuts as a good thing. Too many innovations get slowed down and even stopped due to the rigid rules and regulations of the “status quo” represented by set-in-their-ways agency bureaucrats.
Now is the time for more innovation. Too often the private industries or corporations doing the innovating are seen as the bogey men and big government as the savior. The opposite is more likely to be true. Of course some kind of federal “adult-supervision” for implementing and running these new technologies is necessary but that has the advantage of more jobs.
Ultimately community efforts and community progress are things that benefit all of us. Clean air, clean water and not contributing to more pollution of our planet should transcend politics. It makes sense to preserve it for ourselves and for future generations.