Revolving doors are useful when constructing for building efficiency and traffic flow, but when it comes to the Administrator's job at the U.S. EPA, a revolving door is a reflection of poor environmental leadership and planning. We are on our third EPA Administrator since President Bush has taken office and are once again facing another set of "guiding principles" that reek of the same meaningless political rhetoric.
Anyone questioning whether the EPA is in disarray needs to look no further than the new Administrator's "Action Plan." Administrator Johnson's top five priorities are cleaner air and affordable energy, clean and safe water, healthy communities and ecosystems, the global environment, and a stronger EPA. The initiatives look and sound good but lack substance.
Congress hasn't been able to pass an environmental rule for the past 15-years. Even the President's Clear Skies Initiative has recently been shelved. What is most telling is that groups that have consistently lobbied against more regulations are actually calling for more regulation. The American Chemistry Council has asked the EPA to get moving on establishing regulations for chemical plant security and resource protection. This is not because they have some love-loss for big brother, but because they realize that voluntary compliance can only go so far in a mixed economy. Without government oversight in the form of a rule of law, the chemical industry can't be assured of enough risk reduction within their own industry to prevent the good companies from being dragged into the quagmire of a public relations nightmare because some rogue chemical company hasn't secured their facility.
State environmental agencies have also become increasingly frustrated with the lack of U.S. EPA direction and environmental program development. The State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials (STAPPA/ALAPCO) recently released a report criticizing a proposed cut in funding that will result in states not being able to conduct air pollution monitoring and inspections of facilities; so much for priorities one and five-cleaner air and a stronger EPA.
North Carolina recently filed a petition to cut migrating pollution from 13 states claiming that transboundary air pollution from power plants located in theses states significantly contributed to North Carolina's problems with meeting the federal particulate matter standard. The U.S. EPA denied the petition claiming that the problem should go away as long as the Clean Air Interstate Rule issued in March 2005 could be successfully implemented (over the next four years). Don't hold your breath on this one; on the other hand, maybe you should while visiting North Carolina.
How about the progress we are making on voluntarily reducing carbon dioxide emissions to curb the effects of global warming? It took six years and two successive international reports signed off by hundreds of the world's top scientists to get the current Administration to even admit that global warming was occurring, regardless of the cause. In that time, we pulled away from the only global agreement that created a forum of dialogue on the issue. Additionally, according to a U.N. World Meteorological Organization report released March 14, 2006, the average global concentration of greenhouse gases hit record levels in 2004, with carbon dioxide continuing to rise at the fastest pace; so much for priorities three and four-healthy communities and ecosystems and the global environment.
Some people may actually be cheering that the EPA has drifted toward an inescapable abyss of ineffectiveness. After all, with all of the EPA's chest pounding in the 1970's, 80's and part of the 90's, perhaps we are ready for a more tamed agency. This may be the case, but what we don't want is a broken agency. Conquering the low-hanging fruit of cleaning up dead lakes, burning rivers, and smog-filled valleys has nearly been achieved. The environmental issues society is facing today are less visible and more insidious and complex. They come in the form of indirect symptoms and effects, such as increases in childhood asthma; bacterial loadings in streams, fishing and swimming areas; persistent organic pollutants accumulating in the food chain; the nebulous issue of global warming; the long-term and mostly unknown influences of bio-engineered foods; and many others. With our limited scientific data, we can't readily see and easily connect cause and effect. Nonetheless, we can't be ignorant with what we can piece together.
It would do the EPA good to drop their old-time rhetoric and begin to focus on what matters today and to future generations. A nice start should come in the form of a progressive vision that inspires bold initiatives, not another revolving door of worn out and meaningless principles.
ENVIRONMENTAL & SAFETY ISSUES: Revolving Door of Environmental Protection
May 1, 2006