Professor Tarlock on the EPA

By Professor Dan Tarlock

During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Donald Trump promised both to curb and to eliminate the EPA. A Florida congressman is planning to introduce legislation to abolish the agency by 2018. Going nuclear against the EPA will not be easy and the counterattacks will be fierce.

The EPA was created in 1970 by President Richard Nixon by Executive Order. It gathered into a new agency the scattered, weak environmental laws delegated to the Departments of Agriculture, then Health, Education and Welfare and Interior. Most foundational environmental laws enacted between 1970-1980 were assigned to the EPA for implementation and enforcement.

The President’s power to abolish agencies falls under government reorganization acts that trace back to the New Deal. The last one was enacted in 1977, before the Supreme Court invalidated legislative vetoes, so the current thinking is that the President must ask Congress for authority to abolish an agency. Even assuming that the current Congress grants the authority, then the fun starts. The air, hazardous waste and water pollution laws that EPA implements and enforces cannot be abolished by the Executive; the Constitution clearly grants that authority exclusively to Congress.

Does the Republican controlled Congress really want to create that level of chaos? Stay tuned.

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