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The EPA is an abused child? Really?

By Scott Tibbs, June 11, 2012

Whatever can be said about the criticisms of the Environmental Protection Agency, comparing those criticisms to child abuse shows extreme insensitivity to abuse victims, does a disservice to rational debate over the EPA's actions and suggests that the author might be a drama queen.

A professor with the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs wrote a guest editorial in the Herald-Times on May 30 complaining about the criticism the agency gets for its efforts to protect the environment through regulations and enforcement of law. After opening his editorial comparing the EPA to "an abused child too terrified to perform normal tasks," Marc Lame had more to say about the "abused" agency:

  • What I am actually hearing from the agency is "they are coming to hurt me again."
  • Dysfunctional, co-dependent and functionally paralyzed describe some children who have been physically abused by their parent. These situations are made worse when the victim realizes those who are supposed to protect them will not.
  • At this point, the victim becomes damaged and confused to the point where they seek attention from the abusers.

You have to be kidding me here.

There is no question that we need government to protect the environment, even from a libertarian perspective. After all, pollution damages the health and property and others, and the libertarian view of government is that "you can do pretty much whatever you want unless you harm someone else." Because pollution crosses state lines to harm other states where the polluters are not located, pollution falls under interstate commerce and it is therefore reasonable for the federal government to get involved. Few reasonable people dispute this.

Once that is established, we then get into the debate over what should be regulated, how strict the regulations should be, how the regulations should be worded, how the regulations should be enforced, what is an unreasonable burden on economic growth and so on and so forth. The point of this post is not to get into all of those issues, though feel free to do so in the comments.

The point of this post is that the kind of language Mr. Lame uses is counterproductive, accusatory and needlessly confrontational.

Businesses that are concerned about the economic impact of regulations are not acting to protect their business and their employees or trying to keep prices low for their customers. Businesses that disagree with certain regulations do not believe they can care for the environment in a different way. They are profiteers that do not care about who they hurt. They are bullies. They are child abusers. Yes, child abusers. Really?

This is the kind of oversimplification that one would expect from a Captain Planet cartoon twenty years ago. There are no competing interests or people of good faith that want to protect both the environment and economic prosperity. No, there are only the profiteering child abusers and the regulators they are bullying. We clearly need a superhero with a mullet to come rescue us.

Who is this editorial trying to convince? You're not going to sway critics of the EPA by calling them child abusers any more than you're going to persuade environmentalists by claiming they are all Earth Liberation Front terrorists. You're not going to move moderates to your position. You could rally your most fervent allies, but those people already support you. What will that accomplish? A more reasoned and less hysterical approach would have been far preferable both in terms of argumentation and civility.

Overall, this was a very Lame editorial. Very Lame indeed.