When most Federal environmental regulations were enacted in the 1970s and 80s, environmental laws became the first of their kind where penalties were applied to polluters retroactively. Because of strong public support, it was political suicide for any member of Congress to publicly resist the legislation. The vast public support for a strong environmental agenda came on the heels of the exposure of industrial disposal practices at Love Canal, televised scenes of burning rivers, and massive fish kills. While a convincing argument can be made that retroactive punishment for previously-accepted disposal practices is unfair, it was the only publicly-acceptable solution for cleaning up prior decades of harmful contamination.
Jumping to the current day, the fairness and efficacy of many environmental regulations remain hotly contested. Opinions vary widely. Environmental advocacy groups that believe in stricter enforcement while U.S. industries argue that their costs of compliance in comparison to their worldwide competitors are killing job creation and shrinking the domestic industrial sector.
A 2015 survey by Pew Research shows that 56% of U.S. adults believe that stricter environmental laws are worth the cost, while 39% believe these laws hurt the economy. Public opinion, however, appears heavily influenced by local economic interests. For example, a 2014 Pew poll showed that residents in states such as West Virginia and Wyoming, where employment is highly dependent upon the petroleum industry, were least supportive of stricter environmental regulations. In contrast, states like Hawaii and Vermont that have very little dependence on petroleum and industrial jobs were highly supportive of stricter environmental regulations.
During 30+ years in the environmental arena, Thomas Donn, president of EnviroSouth, has developed the following opinions:
- Environmental regulations have resulted in a cleaner and healthier environment, especially in highly urbanized areas.
- The most powerful factors in motivating industry to comply with modern pollution prevention practices are the high cost of cleanup and the public stigma of being identified as a polluter.
- The reach of environmental laws has expanded over the years as a result of “regulatory creep”. This term refers to the continuous development of non-legislated agency-created policies and rigid guidelines that often go beyond the intent of the original laws.
- The passage of federal Brownfield legislation in 2002 has greatly benefitted quality of life and urban economies by placing thousands of environmentally-damaged properties back into productive use. Brownfield laws provide critical liability protections and tax incentives to private developers involved in the rehabilitation of these properties.
So, do we believe that environmental laws have resulted in regulatory overkill? Generally, yes. Even though environmental regulations have resulted in obvious benefits to our society, there is no substitution for common-sense and flexibility in the application of these laws. State and Federal environmental regulations and policies need to be streamlined and reviewed to determine the actual benefit to society versus the burden on industry and job creation.
EnviroSouth has successfully assisted our clients by openly communicating with regulators to create outcomes that are compliant with laws and protective of the environment and are focused on controlling costs and reaching regulatory closure as quickly as possible. Our passion for finding solutions that allow nearly any environmental situation to be overcome is why many of our clients have repeatedly utilized our services since our founding in 2001.
Disclaimer: This sheet has been prepared by EnviroSouth, Inc. for general informational purposes only. The contents of this publication shall not be construed as legal or professional advice. Readers should consult an environmental professional before acting on the provided information.