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EPA, job killer or people saver?

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 1:16 PM EST, Tue January 17, 2012
Pelicans fly along the Louisiana coast in August 2010 as cleanup efforts continued after the Gulf oil spill.
Pelicans fly along the Louisiana coast in August 2010 as cleanup efforts continued after the Gulf oil spill.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republican candidates have sharply criticized EPA, called for it to be limited or shut down
  • LZ Granderson says they're ignoring the fact that it was created by a GOP president
  • The EPA is credited with administering laws that have saved many lives, he says
  • Granderson: Ending a federal role in enforcing environmental rules makes no sense

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- The way some Republicans talk about the Environmental Protection Agency, you would think it was created by a bunch of pot-smoking hippies communing at a nudist camp in northern California -- when in fact, the EPA was created by one of their own, Richard Nixon, in 1970.

Much as Republicans don't like to bring up the huge tax increases instituted by their hero, Ronald Reagan, they prefer to sidestep their role in the EPA's humble beginnings and blame it on Democrats. They characterize the whole thing as an albatross hanging around the economy's neck.

To be fair, Nixon did not ride into the White House as a conservationist, and he did veto the Clean Water Act. But he said he did so because of the price tag of the policy, not its purpose. After the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 -- which at the time was the largest in U.S. history -- Nixon agreed with the rest of thinking society that clean water and air were a good thing. And his fingerprints are all over such tree-hugging initiatives as the Clean Air Act.

Sadly, if he tried any of that funny business today, his own party would probably impeach him. That's how far down the oil well some in the Republican leadership have fallen.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

Rep. Michelle Bachmann said she would lock the EPA's doors and turn off its lights if she were president (thankfully there's no chance of that); Newt Gingrich said he would shut down the EPA and create a replacement to work with businesses to create jobs (making it more of a lapdog than watchdog); Rick Perry asked the president to halt all regulations, adding "his EPA regulations are killing jobs all across America."

Many conservatives, such as Bachmann and Perry, refer to the agency as a "job killer" because of the regulations, and consequent operational costs, it imposes on businesses. I find the label rather odd, considering that research shows that poor air and water quality are people killers and without people, jobs are pretty much useless.

EPA: Job killer or people saver?

The Sierra Club, a 120-year-old conservation nonprofit, estimates that legislation administered by the EPA prevented more than 200,000 premature deaths from air pollutants, cleaned more than 2000 polluted rivers and lakes, and was instrumental in phasing out dangerous chemicals such as DDT and PCBs along with the poisonous leaded gasoline -- one of the worse inventions of all time, according to Time Magazine.

That doesn't mean it's an agency without controversy. The Sierra Club, in pushing for more progress, often criticizes the EPA for its shortcomings, and the agency was accused of suppressing a report that questions global warming. Still, how could anyone who has seen news coverage of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill -- the current worst oil disaster in U.S. history -- not want the federal government involved in protecting the environment?

EPA critics such as Ron Paul suggest the states should be left to handle their own environmental issues -- an idea that could only come from people who have not had to stand in line at the DMV. Once you've dealt with that and other state offices, the last thing you would want is to let the states go solo in handling the safety of drinking water.

And who did front-runner Mitt Romney cite to say that the EPA functioned better under George W. Bush than Obama? Oil and gas executives. Talk about a classic example of someone completely lacking in the self-awareness department.

I guess for his next piece of news he'll tell us evangelical voters believe in God.

Seriously, if Romney is so hell-bent on stating the obvious, he should bring up the provision in Bush's 2005 Energy Policy Act that excused natural gas companies from telling the EPA which chemicals they were using to mine with, and say it was a mistake.

It's not like that would be stepping out on a limb, since it's been well documented that some people who live near gas-drilling facilities can now turn on their faucets and light the water on fire. I'm not making that up -- rent the documentary "Gasland" and enjoy the pyrotechnic show. If you can.

I found myself getting angry as I listened to homeowner after homeowner share the details of trying to live a life breathing in toxic fumes because of the unregulated drilling. Think Karen Silkwood or Erin Brockovich. Or better yet, think Dick Cheney, the driving force behind W's energy policy. Why Cheney? Well, one of the companies making big profits from the natural gas drilling is his former employer, Halliburton.

And yet Republicans like Romney -- who as a governor, proposed plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and as a presidential candidate, backed away from such plans -- and his rivals talk openly about their disdain for the EPA, while pushing for the Keystone XL pipeline extension. The pros and cons of building a system that funnels crude oil into the U.S. are worth exploring. But doing so while plotting to dismantle the EPA reeks of capitalism run amok.

I severely doubt the EPA is running as efficiently as it should, and I'm sure there are some regulations that need to reviewed by the science community. But the Republican notion that a federal policing of our natural resources is a waste of money flies in the face of common sense.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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