The EPA's 'Make Sure Nothing Gets Done Unless We Like It' Mandate

On March 15, Bloomberg News reported that President Barack Obama plans to give the Environmental Protection Agency and its friends de facto veto power over virtually all economic growth and progress.


Of course, that’s not how the business news service’s Mark Drajem wrote it up.

But that’s the effect:

Obama is preparing to tell all federal agencies for the first time that they should consider the impact on global warming before approving major projects, from pipelines to highways.

The standards, which constitute guidance for agencies and not new regulations, are set to be issued in the coming weeks, according to lawyers briefed by administration officials.

He’d expand the scope of a Nixon-era law that was first intended to force agencies to assess the effect of projects on air, water and soil pollution.

The law involved is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Obama’s gambit to expand the law’s reach is the kind of move I expect will become officially published guidance at a convenient time when almost no one is paying attention. Good Friday evening would thus be a strong possibility.

As described, this is a vast expansion of the law which first gave rise to “environmental impact statements” decades ago. These already odious monuments to overwhelming paperwork and institutionalized busywork will apparently morph into far more burdensome “environmental and climate change impact statements.”

Carrying through with the logic, virtually any attempt at economic expansion or improvement could be affected, not just “major projects.” Such statements could, and I believe eventually would, be required for any government or private-sector construction project, and perhaps even for an ordinary business decision which has the subjectively determined potential to increase carbon emissions, meaning almost any project or business action, large or small.


If a current or future EPA somehow tries to avoid or minimize such micromanagement, environmental groups, which have had undeserved standing to file virtually any lawsuit at any time against any project they don’t like since the early 1970s, will step in to force compliance with Obama’s expanded impact statement requirement.

The president’s planned move follows up on a threat he made in his January State of the Union address:

If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct … (applause) I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

We now see that Obama’s promise, as seen in the plan identified by Drajem at Bloomberg, was that if Congress wouldn’t cave to his obviously unreasonable, statist, carbon-taxing agenda, he would figure out how to do everything he could to help his administration engage in economic tyranny (“arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority”) without them. He is now carrying out that promise.

At National Review, Stanley Kurtz believes that this regulatory expansion will enable Obama, if he so wishes, to have it both ways with the Keystone pipeline, and to accomplish what he instinctively wants — that is, to stop it:


The Bloomberg report makes it clear that Obama’s order opens the way for further litigation and substantial delays on Keystone, whether the federal government officially blocks construction or not.

Obama can publicly “approve” Keystone, while simultaneously handing the left the tool they need to put the project on semi-permanent hold. Environmentalists would take the political heat, while Obama would get off scot-free. Pretty clever.

Even though the State Department has concluded that Keystone will cause a barely noticeable increase and possibly a decrease in carbon emissions compared to using rail cars and barges to transport oil from Canada to refineries in the U.S., environmentalists will spend years arguing that the best alternative is for the U.S. to reduce its appetite for oil to the point where oil sands production in Canada no longer makes economic sense. The fact that Canada is already hedging its bets and planning to send its oil to China is lost on them — and besides, they’re also trying to stop the pipeline which would take the oil to Western Canadian ports.

The longer and more costly the delays, the greater the chances are that Keystone’s backers will throw in the towel. That problem will apply to just about anything that anyone will try to build.

Take Greater Cincinnati’s outdated, overcrowded, 1960s-era Brent Spence Bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky. This is the structure Obama used as a phony political prop in September 2011 as he lobbied to have Congress approve infrastructure spending which was supposed to happen in the 2009 stimulus bill, but mostly never did.


In enviro-zealots’ minds, while reducing idling in traffic jams would be good, a Brent Spence replacement wide enough to accommodate future traffic growth would be bad, because more car and truck traffic means more emissions. Odds are they would try to argue that future traffic developments should be limited to trendy but publicly rejected ideas like light rail, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and the like. And besides, they prefer it be as inconvenient as possible for those people who drive long distances to work everyday, and that these people be nudged to take jobs closer to home.

If you’re a fast-food franchisee who wishes to build another location in the outer suburbs, I don’t see how ambitious litigants couldn’t invoke the broad reach of NEPA to argue that your new location will cause people to make more carbon-emitting car trips and contribute to carbon-emitting urban sprawl. Besides, they’ll argue, we’d be much better off if potential customers bought their food at grocery stores.

You want to move your company’s headquarters? Better study your “before” and “after” carbon emissions, as well as those involved in the move itself. If you don’t, the greenies might make you do it, and you won’t like the result. The guess here is that if you want to pony up some buckaroos to environment organizations, they just might give you a pass and not object to your plans.


Many businesspeople, entrepreneurs, and investors looking at these constraints will throw up their hands and say: “Forget it.” Then the self-appointed geniuses on the left, as they see economic growth stagnate, evaporate, or go negative, will scratch their arrogant heads and wonder why it’s happening — except for the true believers, who will rub their hands in glee.


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