Holding the EPA to account

For 45 years, federal law has made protecting the environment a priority under the National Environmental Policy Act by mandating that the consideration of environmental impacts be considered as part of every federal action. During much of the same time period, Congress directed the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the potential job losses and shifts in employment caused by environmental regulations. Yet EPA has refused to provide Congress with the information needed to address impacts ranging from industries being shuttered, to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs and communities disrupted.

Those days of inaction may be over. A federal trial court in West Virginia, in a case called Murray Energy Corporation v. EPA, recently found that EPA failed or refused to implement a statutory requirement to continuously evaluate job losses and shifts in employment caused by its regulations. The court ordered EPA to fully comply with the law. The court further found that due to the impact of its regulations on our economy, and the undisputed widespread employment effects suffered by the coal industry, it would be an abuse of discretion for EPA to refuse to conduct the job loss impacts on the coal industry resulting from its regulations.

In reaching its decision, the court heard testimony, undertook an exhaustive review of legislative history, examined the multiple congressional oversight hearings and the many demands from Congress for EPA to implement the job loss evaluations, as well as commitments made by EPA to Congress. The court also reviewed responses to Freedom of Information requests in which EPA admitted it never undertook any job loss evaluations.

But the most striking part of the court’s examination of legislative and regulatory activity is how much the political process has changed. In 1972, Congress was being told that jobs were being lost due to over-reaching regulations — just like today. Under a bipartisan compromise, Congress directed EPA to evaluate the impact of its regulations on jobs so that it could understand the scope of the problem. Congress wanted information. But Congress did not get that information.

So why for almost four decades did EPA refuse to provide Congress with the employment impacts information it needed to determine whether regulations are harming workers?

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