Policy Analysis No. 361

Smart Growth at the Federal Trough: EPA’s Financing of the Anti-Sprawl Movement

Executive Summary

In January 1999, Vice President Al Gore declared war on sprawl. Like many wars, this one has in fact been going on undeclared for some time, with the government covertly supplying funds and technical support to supposed grassroots organizations.

Leading the charge in the war on sprawl is the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA’s legal authority over urban land-use planning is tenuous at best. Yet under two grant-making programs—the Transportation Partners program and the Smart Growth Network—the agency has laid the groundwork for a major power grab by giving millions of dollars to nonprofit lobbying groups to build public support for the war on sprawl. With the support of these organizations, Vice President Gore and EPA hope to use federal funding and regulatory authority to dramatically change the lifestyles of most Americans.

The federal government should not subsidize one side of a public policy debate; doing so undermines the very essence of democracy. Nor should government agencies fund nonprofit organizations that exist primarily to lobby other government agencies. Congress should shut down the federal government’s anti-sprawl lobbying activities and resist the temptation to engage in centralized social engineering.

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Peter Samuel is the editor of Toll Roads Newsletter and has worked on EPA policies with the George C. Marshall Institute. Randal O’Toole is the executive director of the Thoreau Institute and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.