THE BLOG
02/08/2011 05:47 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Imbalanced: New Gingrich on the Environmental Protection Agency

Former House Speaker and likely presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich has it backwards.

He believes business is being unfairly burdened by environmental regulations and consequently, wants to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and replace it with a new, more "even-handed" governmental unit.

The reality is that it is the economically disadvantaged, especially minorities, not the business community, who are suffering under the current regulatory regime. If any change is forthcoming, the EPA should be tightening enforcement and receiving more resources to protect the downtrodden.

Gingrich's assertion that the EPA "blocks economic progress and job growth... at every turn" is pure poppycock. For example, since 1970, the federal Clean Air Act has cut polluting emissions by more than 60 percent while the economy has grown by more than 200 percent. If business is being persecuted, you would never know it from the stock market's performance in the last four decades.

Environmental regulations may have caused some employment displacement, but more jobs have been saved by forcing industries to modernize facilities and thereby prolong their facilities' operational life. In addition, the need to comply with environmental regulations has created a broad array of new vocational opportunities. Temporary unemployment benefits and government subsidized retraining programs can and have mitigated any remaining negative impacts.

While environmental progress has been made, we still have a long way to go to achieve "environmental justice." What seems to have eluded Gingrich is that whether through shoddy enforcement or insufficient regulation, the economically disadvantaged have been disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards. As a result, they have experienced above average rates of cancer, asthma, and lead poisoning. Scientists attribute much of this health scourge to excessive exposure to toxic emissions from hazardous waste dumps, industrial facilities, and heavily congested highways situated in close proximity to low income neighborhoods. Infant mortality is also higher and life expectancy lower in these locales, and again, environmental causation is implicated.

The EPA has been periodically criticized for a less than stellar effort in enforcing environmental justice. In a timely response, current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has assigned high priority to the issue. Consider that it takes unduly long for minority communities to get illegal hazardous sites cleaned up, and the fines levied against such operations are routinely less severe than in other locations.

On the bright side, it appears that the overwhelming majority (including Republicans) of Americans reject outright Gingrich's proposed dismembering of the EPA. According to a recent nationwide survey by the Opinion Research Corporation, almost two-thirds of those queried want the EPA to do more, not less, in regard to "holding polluters accountable and protecting the air and water."

Where does that leave Gingrich? If he persists with his convoluted notion of environmental justice, he will simply erect another roadblock on an already precarious route to the Republican presidential nomination.

Edward Flattau's fourth book Green Morality is now available.