Watergate don’t bother me, does EPA bother you?
President Richard Nixon once committed an extraordinary egregious act that forever altered the interplay among the three branches of government. Even four decades later, the trust between the American people and its citizens remains bruised. I’m talking, of course, about December 2, 1970 – the day Nixon signed an executive order creating the Environmental Protection Agency.
To skeptics, Nixon acted to appease the Left, then up in arms over the ongoing Vietnam War. To more optimistic observers, he signed that order (and later the extension of the Clean Air Act) out of a strong and sincere belief that a coordinated nationwide approach was the best way to address America’s environmental problems.
But whatever Nixon’s intentions, the road to hell is paved with good ones (and cemented with political expediency). Four decades on, we are left with an agency that thumbs its nose at Congress, pursues a political agenda rather than focus on its stated mission, and provides fodder for late night comedians and Human Events columnists.
Last week, EPA Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan testified before Congress about the EPA’s mismanagement and misbehavior. Some of the revelations were sensational. Now, IG reports are not generally the source for Comedy Central routines, but in the vein of “You can’t make this stuff up,” we have a winner.
Consider the curious case of John Beale, who duped the agency out of almost $1 million in undeserved bonuses and reimbursements by posing as a CIA agent. Or the senior official who repeatedly received performance bonuses, despite his superiors’ knowledge that he spent two to six hours a day watching porn during work hours (I hope, at a minimum, the scene played out at a Superfund site). Or another senior employee who collected $35,000 in undeserved bonuses while using her office to sell beauty products.
Gasp! Did her supervisor even ask her if those cosmetics posed a threat to waterways and aquatic life?
Clearly, these tales raise basic questions about agency competence and accountability. Since 1994 the agency has missed 98 percent (196 out of 200) of its primary Clean Air Act deadlines as defined by its own statutes. In plain English, that means the EPA ignores what it is legally required to do. Instead of committing agency resources to its congressionally defined responsibilities, the agency is running a rogue shop where employees get away with whatever they want.
From carbon capture to fracking to climate change to coal production, the EPA is interested more in pursuing the Obama administration’s desire to regulate out of business industries it doesn’t like, rather than ensure proper environmental stewardship. For example, the EPA IG’s office also reported that it had “counseled” a specific EPA employee over an ethics violation related to his interactions with a former employer. The IG investigation disclosed 13 incidences in which the appointee communicated or had meetings with a former employer regarding to his official duties.
Translation: The revolving door between environmental special interests and the EPA is spinning faster than ever. Consider that in 2012, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club had revenues of approximately $100 million and $80 million, respectively. That’s a lot of money to run sophisticated campaigns to influence elections. In return for such support, these organizations get direct inside access to the agency through the political appointments of their staff members. The result is the excessive politicization of environmental policymaking. Instead of disinterestedly pursuing better public health outcomes, the agency is imposing baseless rules on industries that environmentalists find icky.
Most alarming of all, it seems that EPA has learned nothing from the “Richard Windsor” secret email scandal that preceded former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s resignation. The IG reported to Congress that an office under the direct control of current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was inhibiting its oversight, specifically blocking “vital information regarding suspected employee and contractor misconduct.”
Enough is enough. This last allegation should demonstrate, once and for all, the need for more effective Congressional oversight. While we champion limited government, the money invested in oversight would save Americans much, much more by inhibiting expensive, politicized regulation. The need for this is all the more acute in light of the extreme deference accorded federal agencies by the courts.
Nixon famously said “I am not a crook.” Clearly, such self-delusion still permeates the agency he created.
Lawson Bader is President of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where William Yeatman is a Senior Fellow in Energy and Global Warming.