EDITORIAL: EPA’s chilling effect

Alaskan liberty goes up in smoke under new air regulations

Not-so-unintended consequences of overregulation are in the air. Newly adopted rules limiting airborne soot imposed by bureaucrats in Washington threaten to freeze the choices — and toes — of individuals living more than 4,000 miles away in subarctic Alaska. Thanks to authoritarian overreach, the freedom of America’s “last frontier” may not last much longer.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waited until after President Obama’s re-election to announce drastic new restrictions on soot produced by industry smokestacks, diesel trucks and even ordinary sources like wood-burning stoves. The new standard for the great outdoors reduces the legal limit for airborne fine-particle matter from 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 12 micrograms. To put in context how overly restrictive that is, secondhand tobacco smoke in a closed car can expose a person to 3,000-4,000 micrograms of soot per cubic meter, according to the agency.

The worst aspect of the agency’s one-size-fits-all scheme is that the same rules that purports to clean up the air above U.S. megalopolises apply to the 97,000 residents of Fairbanks and its surrounding county, tucked amidst the wilderness of central Alaska. In January, the average low temperature is 15-25 degrees below zero and many homes turn to wood stoves to keep their heating costs under control. The county had already been on the EPA’s “non-attainment area” list before the new regulations. Compliance will be even harder now.

Alaska’s 663,000 square miles is mostly forested, offering residents an abundant source of affordable firewood. When county officials floated a plan to regulate the burning of wood, residents were understandably inflamed. “Everybody wants clean air. We just have to make sure that we can also heat our homes,” state Rep. Tammie Wilson told the Associated Press. Rather than fret over EPA’s computer-model-based warning about the dangers of inhaling soot from wood smoke, residents have more pressing concerns on their minds such as the immediate risk of freezing when the mercury plunges.

Only 66 counties out of more than 3,000 nationwide are out of compliance with current air-quality standards, thanks to advances in modern technology. That’s not good enough for the anti-industrial zealots who run the EPA, demanding even more and more restrictions regardless of the cost. Industry organizations contend the rules impose a hidden price in the form of a damper on business expansion. Herein lies the flaw of big government: Bureaucrats on the Potomac who micromanage the activities of Alaskans thousands of miles away are missing the forest for the trees.

Mr. Obama’s hand-picked EPA administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, has granted herself the ultimate power: the ability to control the very air we breathe. Along the way, her regulatory zeal has raised questions about whether she has strayed beyond the boundaries of the law.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, alleged last month Mrs. Jackson conducted official business through an email account under the fictitious name “Richard Windsor” to shield agency dealings from public disclosure. Following a Justice Department decision to release as many as 12,000 of the emails, Mrs. Jackson announced her resignation. By reading the inner workings of the Obama regulatory machine, Americans may soon have the opportunity to learn how they lost the sweet air of freedom.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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