Without the EPA, Volkswagen would still be cheating and polluting

    Volkswagen cars are shown on display at a dealership. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

    Volkswagen cars are shown on display at a dealership. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

    Finally, some justice in the notorious Volkswagen scandal. The company is reportedly poised to pay billions in federal fines, as penance for having rigged their smog-polluting diesel cars to cheat on emissions tests.

    What’s important to remember is that Volkswagen ‘fessed up last fall only because they were pressured to do so by the pollution watchdogs at the Environmental Protection Agency. The same EPA that Republicans have long been pining to abolish.

    Think about that. If Republicans had their way, there would be no EPA. And Volkswagen would never have copped to the fact that its diesel cars were spewing smog-forming nitrous oxides into our air.

    Volkswagen would never have admitted that it had installed software to activate pollution controls only when the cars were stationary (during emission tests), and to switch off the controls when the cars were being driven. Volkswagen’s original goal was to advertise its diesels as great on gas mileage and very green too. But independent researchers — many of them EPA alumni — discovered the software scam. And the EPA, armed with strong anti-pollution enforcement powers, threatened to withhold approval of Volkswagen’s ’16 diesel models. Thus cornered, the company caved.

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    Just another example of the EPA doing its job. Its nitrous oxide standards are far stricter than Europe’s, which is another reason why Volkswagen got busted here, not there. And here’s the big picture: A massive study released in 2012 shows that EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act saved $22 trillion in health costs during the agency’s first 20 years, resulting in 22 million fewer lost workdays. In fact, there was a 30 percent reduction in nitrous oxides.

    OK, now let’s hear from Republicans. This is the fun part.

    Donald Trump: “Environmental Protection — what they do is a disgrace. (They) waste all this money. We’re going to bring that back to the states …. We’re going to have little tidbits left, but we’re going to get most of it out.”

    Ted Cruz: The EPA is a “radical” agency. “We’ve got to rein in a lawless executive” that imposes “illegal” limits on pollution.

    Iowa Senator Joni Ernst: “Let’s shut down the EPA. The state knows best how to protect its resources.”

    Koch brothers subsidary Scott Walker: “Take their responsibilities and send them back to the states …. Leave in place an umbrella organization that really is limited to mediating interstate conflicts over, say, where a body of water or a piece of land goes through multiple states.”

    Newt Gingrich: “I want to replace, not reform, EPA, because EPA is made up of self-selected bureaucrats who are anti-American jobs, anti-American business, and I don’t think you can re-educate them.”

    Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh: “The EPA ought to be scrapped and something better ought to be put in its place.”

    Tea-partying Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp: “A lot of what the EPA does, I don’t think the states should be doing those either.”

    Michigan Congressman and ex-state GOP chairman Saul Anuzis: “We have ample regulation in almost evey single state that deals with environmental problems …. There’s no need for the federal government to intrude in that regard.”

    Michele Bachmann: When I’m president, “I guarantee you the EPA will have doors locked and lights off.”

    Rick Perry: “Somebody has to tell the EPA that we don’t need you monkeying around and fiddling around.” He vowed that, as president, he would “dismantle” the agency.

    And so on. In the wake of the Volkswagen scandal — laid bare thanks to the EPA — it’s clear that Republicans need a reality check. For instance:

    “[We need] a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe.” That can’t be done on a state by a state basis. Only the EPA has “the capacity to do research on important pollutants … and on the impact of these pollutants on the total environment. With these data, the EPA [can] establish quantitative ‘environmental baselines’ — critical if we are to measure adequately the success or failure of our pollution abatement efforts [and] enforce standards.”

    So said Richard Nixon, the Republican president who created the EPA 46 years ago. His GOP allies in Congress supported his executive order. And when the Clean Air Act — the legal template for the EPA’s mission — went to the Senate floor, not a single Republican voted No. Nixon lauded the law as “a bipartisan …. I think that 1970 will be known as the year of the beginning, in which we really began to move on the problems of clean air.”

    Yes, folks, battling air pollution used to be bipartisan. Holding companies like Volkswagen accountable used to be bipartisan. There’s a big reason why the United States doesn’t have the smog problem that plagues China and Europe, and Republicans would surely credit the EPA — and their own vital role in creating the EPA – if they hadn’t so tragically lost their way.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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