U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith has long blamed regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency for the decline of the coal industry across the nation and in his Southwest Virginia district.
Griffith, R-9th, introduced a bill to cut 15 percent of the EPA’s budget, saying the agency has grown "out of control."
"From 1972 until 2011, the number of EPA employees increased by 107 percent while the number of total federal personnel decreased by 15 percent," he said on March 25 during testimony before the House Budget Committee.
We wondered whether Griffith’s figures are correct. His spokeswoman, Andrea Pivarunas, sent us sources for the numbers.
The EPA had a staff of 8,358 in 1972 and it grew to 17,359 in 2011, according to data from the agency. That’s an increase of 107.7 percent -- matching what Griffith said.
We should note that EPA dropped to 15,913 employees last year as many cashed in on an early retirement incentive offered to federal workers. So if Griffith had used the the most current data available, the increase since 1972 would have translated to 90.4 percent.
The total number of federal employees was 5.2 million in 1972 and 4.4 million in 2011, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management. That’s a decrease of 15.4 percent -- again, what Griffith said.
The federal workforce figure requires elaboration because it includes civilians and uniformed military personnel, which have experienced different trends since 1972.
Executive branch civilian employees numbered 2.82 million in 1972 and 2.76 million in 2011, a drop of 2.1 percent. Meanwhile, uniformed military personnel numbered 2.36 million in 1972 and 1.58 million in 2011, a decrease of 33.1 percent. So the reduction in federal employees has more to do with a smaller fighting force than with a shrinking bureaucracy.
Now, let’s return to the EPA. What accounted for its sharp rise in employment? The answer is that the agency was barely out of infancy in 1972 when Griffith begins his timeline.
The EPA was created on Dec. 2, 1970, to consolidate environmental quality programs in several federal departments. For example, the Interior Department worked on water quality and pesticides, while the Department of Health, Education and Welfare worked on air pollution, and the Food and Drug Administration conducted pesticides research. In areas where the federal government didn’t have oversight, state or local governments were left to fill in the gaps.
Congress passed a number of laws in the 1970s that expanded the EPA’s authority:
Clean Air Act to set national air quality, automobile emission and anti-pollution standards
Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention to to restrict lead-based paints in government-subsidized housing, cribs and toys
Clean Water Act to control discharges of pollution in surface water
Dumping Act to control dumping chemicals and material in the ocean waters
Safe Drinking Water Act to regulate public drinking water
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to control hazardous waste from creation to disposal
Toxic Substances Control Act to cut health risks from synthetic and organic chemicals
Superfund Act to identify those responsible for chemical contamination of land and compel them to clean up the contamination
"The 1970s is known as the environmental decade because so much happened so quickly," said Daniel Fiorino, director of American University’s Center for Environmental Policy and a former EPA official.
The agency started with 4,084 employees in 1970 and grew to 13,078 in 1980.
Employment tapered in the early 1980s, but grew again in the 1990s with a sweeping expansion of the Clean Water Act and as concerns emerged about global warming. The EPA peaked in 1999, with 18,110 employees.
From 1980 to 2011, employment at the EPA grew by 32.4 percent while the total number of federal employees -- military and civilian -- dropped by 11.3 percent.
Griffith said, "From 1972 until 2011, the number of EPA employees increased by 107 percent while the number of total federal personnel decreased by 15 percent."
There are a few minor issues with Griffith’s choice of dates and numbers, but we won’t quibble. The EPA increase would have dipped below 100 percent if Griffith had used the most current employment figures from 2013. On the other had, Griffith could have made the growth sound more dramatic if he had started his comparison in 1970, when the EPA was born.
We rate Griffith’s statement True.