Experts are warning that the US Environmental Protection Agency is headed for failure. And I’m not talking about the whirlwind of ethics controversies and high-level resignations surrounding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Government agencies are supposed to act in the public interest. But over time, they can come to be dominated by the very industries they are charged with regulating, a problem that Nobel laureate and economist George J. Stigler warned about in a seminal 1971 article introducing his “capture theory” of economic regulation. Today this type of government failure is called “regulatory capture,” and the EPA is on the brink of becoming its latest victim.
A recent study concluded that EPA’s pro-business leanings and an apathetic Congress have made regulatory capture “likely—more so than at similar moments in the agency’s 47-year history. The public and environmental health consequences of regulatory capture of the EPA will probably be severe and far-reaching.” The study, which is part of an American Journal of Public Health special issue on climate change, is based on public documents, news articles, and interviews with current and former EPA employees.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster is a classic example of what can happen when regulatory agencies get too cozy with industry. An official investigation by Japan’s legislature concluded that the meltdowns were foreseeable and could have been avoided if government regulators had insisted on measures to keep the public safe. In 2018, the foreseeable disaster is climate change.