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The Shortest Bill in History May Have the Biggest Consequences for America
02/20/2017 EPA Mark M
keywords: Defund EPA

Freshman congressman Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) first act in office may live on in legend. His bill, H.R.861, is, at 40 words long, the shortest in legislative history. However, the bill, which proposes to do away with the Environmental Protection Agency, may have the longest reaching consequences in history as well.

In 1970, the late Richard M. Nixon created the EPA to consolidate the actions of 44 government agencies and 9 departments that issued various regulations regarding the environment. The purpose was to increase government efficiency. However, critics believe the agency stifles private businesses and the economy.

Gaetz would not be the first Republican to attempt to dismantle the agency. Most famously, the late Ronald Reagan appointed Anne Gorsuch (mother of current Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch) to run the agency. President Reagan’s strategy was to incrementally rewrite many environmental protection regulations rather than a one-line bill to shut down the agency. Gorsuch carried out that policy with some success. However, a Democratic-controlled Congress voted down most of her changes – even overriding Presidential vetoes – tempering her wins.

Gaetz calls the agency “oppressive” and believes that 50 years of regulations has done enough for places like his home district in Florida, but done too much to slow economic growth around the country. Rather, Gaetz would rely on states to provide their own regulatory laws. Gaetz doesn’t say whether those states would in turn provide their own economy-stifling regulations.

A Florida economist and academic, Rick Harper, told the USA Today that Gaetz’s bill isn’t likely to kill off the EPA. Rather, his bill would end up creating “more market- and price-oriented solutions to pollution and that the legislation would evolve from dismantling the EPA to requiring the EPA to reduce the burden of paperwork."

Harper’s assessment sounds more reasonable, and more like what President Donald Trump would actually do. During the campaign, he promised to weaken the EPA, saying, “We’re going to have little tidbits left but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out.” Trump has promised repeatedly to reduce regulations, drawing up Executive Orders that mandate reviewing what regulations the federal government should consider eliminating.

Environmental scientists and advocates still fear the worst, whether Gaetz has his way or Trump leaves the tidbits. Some worry that Trump’s actions will gut laws like the Clean Air Act, which author Chip Jacobs says should save the nation $2 trillion in health and environmental benefits by the year 2020.

Others are less concerned, citing the difficulty of rolling back regulations that are mandated by court order. Even with a Republican majority, Gaetz’s dream bill would need to pass the 60-vote margin in the Senate and a majority in the House. Harvard environmental law professor Jody Freeman wrote, “It’s not going to happen.

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