In the second volume of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Theoden, King of Rohan, learns that the armies of Saruman, the evil wizard, are advancing upon the defenseless city. He therefore orders the citizens to relocate to Helm's Deep, a massive fortress carved into the side of a mountain that has heretofore remained impenetrable. With the help of some elven allies who arrive in the nick of time from Rivendell, the Rohan soldiers repel wave after wave of attacks by the vicious Uruk-hai. As one wall is breached, the soldiers fall back behind an interior wall until at last there is nowhere to retreat. At that point, the king seizes the offensive, orders his soldiers to mount their steeds and take the battle to the enemy. Fortunately, at that moment Gandalf, a good wizard, returns to Helms Deep with a band of Rohan mounted soldiers, and the two armies put the enemy to rout.
For much of the past 30 years, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the laws that it administers have been under siege, much like the people of Rohan, from powerful economic, ideological and political actors who believe that the companies subject to EPA's regulatory authority should have greater freedom to go about their business unimpeded by “senseless” and “burdensome” regulations. The assaults came in three waves that peaked during the first years of the Reagan Administration, the first year of the 104th Congress, and the first six years of the George W. Bush Administration. During the first two years of the Obama Administration, EPA seized the offensive. Unlike the heroes of Helm's Deep, however, the forces of environmental progress were driven back behind the ramparts after only two years by a wholly unanticipated fourth assault from a reinvigorated business community that took advantage of an economic crisis brought on by the lack of federal regulation of the banking industry to inspire a populist uprising that inexplicably blamed federal regulation for the nation's current economic woes. Whether EPA and the foundational environmental laws that it implements will survive this fourth assault is by no means clear.