By Dan Danner
National Federation of Independent Business
Washington, D.C. – When the Environmental Protection Agency issued an “Endangerment Finding” about greenhouse gases in 2009, it had the appearance of a government-style Chicken Little moment, the latest grave warning of threats to public health and welfare.
Unfortunately, the finding was more than a warning. It ultimately led to a wide-sweeping re-interpretation of the Clean Air Act’s regulations on greenhouse gases. In the new rules, EPA suddenly branded hundreds of thousands of small-business farms, restaurants, manufacturers and even commercial offices as “stationary sources” of pollution.
Our lawmakers on Capitol Hill didn’t see a need for such a step when they originally wrote the Clean Air Act, but government agencies like EPA have a bad habit of assuming they know America’s needs better than anyone else.
Re-interpreting a law and enforcing it in a different way than Congress intended, of course, is more than a bad habit. It’s unconstitutional. That’s why the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 350,000 small businesses, is linking arms with other business organizations to file several legal challenges in federal court against this over-reach by the EPA. We’re also asking Congress to stop the EPA’s runaway rule-making machine.
For much of its history, EPA has showered small businesses with costly, time-consuming regulations and paperwork demands. Now, having failed to advance its goals through “cap and trade” tax legislation, the agency is becoming much more aggressive in rewriting laws that emerge from Congress. In just two years, it has attempted or adopted 25 new rules using the Clean Air Act to justify its bureaucratic bulldozer.
On top of the already-heavy environmental compliance burdens small firms already face, the new stationary-source status could force businesses to line up for EPA’s snail-like permitting process, delaying construction and renovations, further eroding their recession-weakened earnings, and creating additional anxiety in an uncertain economy.
EPA’s decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions could cost about $78 billion per year with small businesses bearing a disproportionate burden of these costs. The regulations will affect among other industries farms, builders and contractors, office buildings and hotels with small businesses comprising many of the affected facilities. EPA’s own estimates show that the number of facilities that would be required to obtain just one category of permits would increase from 280 per year to almost 41,000 a year.
A certain level of regulation is, of course, essential to a balanced government, and the Clean Air Act has contributed to the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere. But under the current administration, there is little doubt that EPA has decided to ignore the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine and roar ahead with a plan that Congress would not allow since they knew it could hinder small business’ ability to create jobs and restore the economy.
EPA’s endangerment ruling is aptly named: it endangers small businesses by allowing greater and more costly bureaucratic control over their activities. It also challenges the legal authority that only Congress should hold.
Article 1, Section 1 of the Constitution specifically states that all legislative powers are vested in Congress, which consists of a Senate and House of Representatives. There’s clearly no mention of the Environmental Protection Agency in that list.
Dan Danner is president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 350,000 small-business owners in Washington, D.C. and every state capitol.