Determined to concentrate power in the hands of largely unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington, Obama administration officials have devised a new scheme to justify expanding the regulatory reach of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
At the request of EPA, the National Research Council (NRC) issued a report last August laying out an “operational framework for integrating sustainability as one of the key drivers within the regulatory responsibilities of EPA.” Referencing a little-noticed Obama Executive Order (13514) from 2009, the NRC report adopts the President’s definition of sustainability contained in the order. Under that definition, sustainability means “to create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.”
Founded in 1916, the NRC is currently administered by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineers, and the Institute for Medicine. In developing the “operational framework” for future EPA policies, the NRC cited the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act‘s (NEPA) use of the word sustainability in describing the federal government’s approach to the environment. “That policy is what is now described as sustainable development,” the NRC notes.
It has often been said that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” The same holds true for sustainable development. The term – never defined with any precision – has been a mainstay of the United Nations, environmental organizations, and, increasingly, federal, state and local governments. A growing number of corporations – eager to parade their green credentials – frequently claim their products and technologies are “sustainable,” without ever telling the public what is meant by the term. Sustainable development is also a pillar of Agenda 21. Adopted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, Agenda 21 is described by the UN Division on Sustainable Development as “a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the United Nations Systems, Governments and Major Groups in every area in which human impacts (sic) on the environment.”
The lack of any clear understanding of what is and is not sustainable bestows a huge amount of discretionary power in the hands of regulators and other government officials acting in accordance with a term whose meaning is withheld from the public. Small wonder that Wendell Cox, Ronald Utt, and Brett Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation have warned that Agenda 21/sustainable development in the hands of EPA “would significantly expand the role of government in economic decision-making, impede development and economic growth, and undermine individual choice and policy flexibility in local communities. Opponents should be concerned about efforts by the U.S. government to implement these policies, both nationally and locally.”
“EPA is already engaged in many projects that further sustainability aims, but the adoption of this framework — implemented in stages – will lead to a growing body of experiences and successes with sustainability,” Bernard Goldstein, occupation health professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School for Public Health, told The Daily Caller (Aug. 4, 2011). Goldstein, who chaired the NRC panels that drew up EPA’s sustainability framework, added that, “To the extent that the laws permit, working with other agencies EPA should be able to incorporate [sustainability] using this framework.”
That effort is already well underway. In June 2010, for example, the Obama administration, by way of an executive order, launched its Ocean Policy Initiative (OPI). The OPI will subject America’s waterways – oceans, rivers, bays, and the Great Lakes plus coastal and even inland areas – to federal zoning. Under the scheme, these areas will be managed according to “coastal and marine spatial planning.” As an unnamed administration official told the Los Angeles Times (July 19, 2010), “This sets the nation on the path of much more comprehensive planning to both conservation and sustainable use of resources.”
Similarly, the administration, on June 9, 2011, announced the creation via Executive Order 13575 of the White House Rural Council. Like the Ocean Policy Initiative, the Rural Council is composed of more than two dozen federal agencies whose objective is to “enhance the federal engagement in rural communities.” The executive order states that, “Strong sustainable rural communities are essential to winning the future and ensuring American competitiveness in the years to come.”
But it will be bureaucrats in Washington — working hand-in-glove with environmental groups, suppliers of renewable energy, and other political allies — who will determine what is sustainable down on the farm. This massive expansion of the powers of the administrative regulatory state is taking place without the consent of Congress, state and local officials, much less the residents of rural America.