Government & Constitution

Hey, let’s give the EPA unrestrained power to garnish wages

Hey, let's give the EPA unrestrained power to garnish wages

The Washington Times brings tidings of the latest brainstorm from our Ruling Class, which is getting sick and tired of carping from the peasants about all this “due process” stuff, and all the yammering about inalienable rights:

The Environmental Protection Agency has quietly floated a rule claiming authority to bypass the courts and unilaterally garnish paychecks of those accused of violating its rules, a power currently used by agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service.

The EPA has been flexing its regulatory muscle under President Obama, collecting more fines each year and threatening individuals with costly penalties for violating environmental rules. In one case, the agency has threatened fines of up to $75,000 per day on Wyoming homeowner Andy Johnson for building a pond on his rural property.

What the heck, why not?  Those unilateral powers have worked out swimmingly for the IRS, haven’t they?  Ever since I got my first job slinging tacos, I’ve been hearing the old joke about how it would be easier if we just sent our paychecks to the government and let them decide how much we should keep.  Give it another few years, and that won’t be a joke any more.

A few stalwarts are not quite ready to give the EPA a blank check to saddle you with a blank paycheck:

“The EPA has a history of overreaching its authority. It seems like once again the EPA is trying to take power it doesn’t have away from American citizens,” Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said when he learned of the EPA’s wage garnishment scheme.

Doesn’t Senator Barrasso understand the urgent need to give the central government the power it requires to stamp down on the existential threat to this great nation represented by unregulated backyard ponds?  On the other hand, it wasn’t long ago that President Obama was telling us not to worry about his sky-high gas prices, because we would soon have cars that ran on algae.  Shouldn’t the EPA be preparing us for that bright future by encouraging the creation of backyard ponds that can serve as emergency fuel sources?

Others questioned why the EPA decided to strengthen its collection muscle at this time.

Oh, come on.  Does anyone really think that’s a mystery?  Every agency wants to ride a lame-duck Big Government socialist to glory.  Grab that power now, and then line up your troops to fight the next Republican president when he tries to take it away.  If this new power is granted, reformers had better also brace themselves for plenty of screaming about how taking away the EPA’s paycheck-garnishment power will “cost” the government a zillion dollars of “revenue,” thus increasing the deficit.  The Washington Times notes that the amount of money connected by the EPA in fines has skyrocketed from $96 million in 2009 to $252 million in 2012.

That’s also why the EPA dropped this little announcement in a little Federal Register notice without fanfare, instead of calling a big press conference to trumped the wonderful news that some of us might be seeing a few exciting new deductions on our paychecks in the near future.

Critics said the threat of garnishing wages would be a powerful incentive for people to agree to expensive settlements rather than fight EPA charges.

You can say that again.  It’s already pretty intimidating to learn that if your last-ditch struggle to fight the EPA’s attempted seizure of your property, on the grounds that a puddle has transformed a hundred square feet of it into a protected wetland, could end up leaving you on the hook for a few million bucks in fines if you lose.  Now they’ll be able to take the fines in real-time, with the smiling assurance that why, of course, citizen, you can exercise your Constitutional right to contest our judgment, and if you’re lucky enough to win, you can get all this money back in a few years.  How much resistance will there be, when resistance must be financed on a pay-as-you-go plan?

Of course, you’ll still be able to challenge the EPA’s decision to garnish your paycheck, in a process that respects the nation’s highest traditions of legal protection, assuming the nation in question is North Korea:

The rule allows the EPA to decide whether a debtor gets a chance to present a defense and then picks whomever it chooses to serve as a hearing officer, even someone not trained as an administrative law judge, wrote David S. Addington, group vice president for research at The Heritage Foundation.

It also puts the burden of proof on the debtor, not the EPA, he said.

Like I said, it sounds like an old joke that isn’t really a joke any more.  The real punchline is that thanks to a 1996 law, nearly any federal agency can potentially get its hands into your paycheck.  I’ll bet anyone who warned that this power would one day be used to garnish fines for improper pond creation would have been dismissed as a wild-eyed anti-government extremist.

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