Protection, even in EPA, is a power play. There has to be a threat to counter. Remove the threat and the rationale for protection (power) is gone. It’s a good cop/bad cop situation in which the victim is restrained. Restraint is also the object of regulation. Trying to regulate the environment is a lost cause, if only because the natural system is random. Humans do not like random. So, when they regulate, it’s always a negative from the environmental perspective.
Finally, pinning one’s hopes to permits is futile. Permits are based on the presumption that the target behavior is good, but some conditions would make it better. So, they have to be issued. Making the conditions so complex that complying with them (hiring engineers and monitors and collecting reams of data) becomes too expensive for an individual, whose monetary assets are constantly restricted, to comply. So, the only entities that can afford the compliance regimen are corporate enterprises, whose potential for environmental disruption and degredation is so much greater than a single farmer or miner or fisherman can contemplate. In other words, our regulatory regime has contributed to the exacerbation of environmental degradation–e.g. by industrial agriculture replacing millions of family farms.
Unintended consequences are largely related to the false assumptions or prejudices we bring to the table. One of the main ones, in addition to the assumption that regular is better than random, is the assumption that ownership of private property is a guarantor of good management, preservation, efficiency and sustainable production. Ownership has proved not to be a guarantee of anything. However, more often than not, ownership is manifest either by destruction or abandonment. How else to explain our asphalt jungles, dust bowls, cratered mountain tops and poisoned lakes?
Private property is not a good thing. It is not a good substitute for personal privacy and it does not guarantee respect for property. Never mind the obligation to care for it properly. Rights do not prevent abuse, certainly not abuse of the natural environment.
Some of us assume that rights come with obligations, but that assumption has also been proven false. Perhaps it is simply a matter of some humans not getting the connection because they don’t see it. Perhaps the lack of interest in carbonating the air we breathe is simply a matter of people not being able to see it, unlike soot, which was hard to miss.
“Out of sight; out of mind.” The operators of power plants building smoke stacks higher were motivated by that rationale. Ditto for the frackers sending contaminants underground. If they can’t see it, no protection is required.