As the budget wars have heated up since the 112th Congress convened in January, there has been escalating rhetoric and division over how to address the need to save federal dollars.
Predictably, the role of various federal agencies in both gobbling scarce dollars and stalling economic development has been injected into the debate. It is important to remember that those agencies whose mission is to manage and safeguard treasured shared resources need funding and support for strong mandates in order to work effectively.
The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture are three essential administrative agencies that are charged under their various divisions with safeguarding important public resources. That work always requires striking a balance between sometimes competing interests and, at times, forces challenging decisions.
Fundamentally, though, those agencies carry out functions critical to ensuring the nation has clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, pristine public lands to enjoy and that support healthy ecosystems, and a backdrop that contributes generously to public health and communities economic strength and vibrancy. Making any one of these agencies a whipping boy for the bloated federal budget claims being bandied about by some in Washington, D.C., has far more than political consequences.
That has not stopped some from attacking. Indeed, our very own 3rd Congressional District Rep. Scott Tipton who has a seat on the House Natural Resources Committee, which makes important decisions that affect these and other important departments has made not surprising, but no less concerning comments about the onerous nature of federal regulations. He has claimed that said rules cost $1.7 trillion each year a bona fide overreach of federal regulations, Tipton said in a Delta County Independent article in February.
While Tipton has not translated this concern into concrete action, his colleagues in the House are targeting the EPA for a series of oversight conversations wherein administrators will be challenged on their intention and authority in enforcing environmental rules.
While there are certainly places where regulations can be reviewed, lumping all of them together so cavalierly is cause for concern. In most cases, rules develop for a reason often in reaction to a situation where their presence would have been good. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is one such example. So, too, are the many rules that govern nuclear power generation. Painting those and other non-environmental rules with so broad a dismissive brush may earn political points, but the fact by and large remains that the agencies who craft and/or enforce federal rules are doing so because those rules are important to the lives of Americans. Undermining those agencies with rhetoric and budget threats or, worse, cuts erodes an important component of our cultural identity: that we share resources and must collectively care for them.
Doing so does not come easily. It is made more difficult, though, when those holding the purse strings question the existential validity of those charged with that collective care. Our decision makers would do well to be a bit more circumspect in their language and actions. We all depend on that.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Megan Graham is director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.