On Earth Day, Remember Who Pollutes the Most

Wednesday marks the anniversary of Earth Day, the international holiday meant to celebrate the natural environment, and the preservation thereof. Many have taken to using this day to call for ever-more top-down environmental management, but they should do so with caution.

The US federal government has a long and often tragic history when it comes to environmental stewardship. Of all days, Earth Day is one where all US citizens should stop to assess the horrific environmental damage that has happened as a direct result of federal action.

As I’ve noted in this space before, the US federal government is one of the largest, if not the largest, polluter on the planet. This pollution comes both directly, with government agencies directly harming environmental quality, and indirectly, with pollution-inducing policy.

How can a government that expects businesses and the public to comply with a tangled web of environmental protection laws do so much harm itself?

This is partly because much of the environmental bureaucracy is almost wholly beyond the control of politicians and the general public. A case in point is the Department of the Interior, an agency designed to manage federal lands, which has provoked regular environmental scandals for more than 100 years.

The agency has long been protected by little other the fact that it appears to be one of the most dull, uninteresting parts of the federal bureaucracy. Reforming the Interior Department is not an issue that a politician can easily campaign on. If anything, disrupting the many vested interests could cost more votes than it wins.

This is a classic example of the concept of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs, where those who benefit from reform, such as taxpayers, would only be minimally helped, while certain groups, such as ranchers, loggers, or recreational users, stand to lose a great deal. Bad policy, once implemented, persists for years due to simple bureaucratic inertia.

Read the rest at the PanAm Post…