Wednesday, September 30, 2015

40 Years of EPA Regulation - Political Factors

I've been a bit lazy about posting lately, but I think the next series of posts will be interesting if you liked our previous posts on the EPA. Within the last few weeks, the Mercatus Center has put out a much longer time series going back to 1974. I have some ideas for journal articles I'll be exploring over time, but as I sift through the data I thought I might share some of the insights they provide as I go.

Most of us who haven't studied the EPA's history in detail probably have a few assumptions about the political drivers of EPA regulation, especially regulation of agriculture. We'd probably think about things like pesticide bans, clean air and water regulations, and fuel standards. We'd probably associate these regulations with Democrats, with an exception for Nixon, who created the EPA.

The charts below show the annual index of regulatory restrictions on agriculture by the EPA (red line). The blue shaded areas indicate years in which Democrats held the majority in the House of Representatives, the Senate, or held the Presidency.

The first chart seems to confirm the view many of us who are fairly naive about the EPA's history. Democrats in the House controlled the house in the times in which regulatory restrictions on agriculture by the EPA increased the most since 1974. This includes the more recent increase from 2009 to 2010. 

However, when we look at the Senate, the story changes. The dramatic rise from 1981 to 1987 occurred when Republicans held the Senate and leveled off somewhat when Democrats held it until the mid 1990s. On the other hand, we've seen an increase and subsequent moderation, resulting in a small increase, during Obama's presidency when the Democrats held the Senate.The story is certainly less clear.

Reagan and Bush I oversaw the greatest increase in EPA regulation of agriculture. Given that the EPA is a federal agency whose Administrator is appointed by the president, the naive view that Democrats have generally been responsible for increasing EPA regulation is clearly false.

Looking at the data above, it's clear that political party isn't a straightforward indicator of the direction of EPA regulatory growth. The Mercatus data is quite rich and I think a closer look at the title and part information will provide some insight into the political and other factors at play. I hope to dig deeper over the next few months on the blog.

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