The Countertop Chronicles

"Run by a gun zealot who's too blinded by the NRA" - Sam Penney of

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Minority Report

I usually make it a point not to comment on work related matters, but this is simply too much to keep my mouth shut.

Say the Bush Administration, in a new effort to stop the flow of drugs (or, heh, illegal guns) on the street came up with a Minority Report approach. Using a statistical model, and knowing that 30% of african american males aged 15-25 and living in DC will be caught selling drugs or otherwise violating the law, they were able to determine - based on reports these machines spit out - which african americans walking the streets were more likely than not to have committed a crime (or will commit a crime in the future) and then went and simply started arresting people based on this.

Pretty outrageous right? Enough to warrant calls for impeachment? Perhaps federal criminal penalties? Civil liability?

I'd generally agree. However, what really troubles me (and drives the passion behind my distrust of environmentalist and federal bureaucrats) is that the same thing happens in an environmental context - especially concerning clean water act violations driven by the demands of Robert Kennedy and his Waterkeeper Alliance - and hardly a peep of protest arises.

Last week, EPA charged four feedlots in Iowa with illegal discharges of agricultural wastewater.

Owner Alan Zellmer told Brownfield Friday the EPA accusation came as a "total shock," and that the EPA had no evidence he had actually polluted. "They have no physical evidence whatsoever, "Zellmer said. "The allegation comes from a model that they have in Kansas City, and they ran our average rainfall through a model, and it says that I discharged, but they have no physical evidence whatsoever."

Brownfield spoke with officials at EPA's Region 7 headquarters in Kansas City Friday. Regional Administrator John Askew confirmed that in Zellmer's case, the accusation that Zellmer is a polluter is, indeed, based on an engineering model. Askew also confirmed the EPA doesn't actually know if a discharge has actually occurred.

"There is a high probability that there has been discharges, so, yes, we are using a model," Askew said.

But EPA attorney Dan Breedlove told Brownfield the model is accurate. "Just because there hasn't been a fishkill reported doesn't mean that there hasn't been impairment to the waterways," Breedlove asserted.

Yet, today, the New York Times runs a completely slanted (surprise, surpise) story on a new executive order signed by the Bush Administration (full disclosure - I worked, from the industry perspective, on the development of this order and consider many of the officials quoted in the story to be close friends and collegues) on the need for more executive oversight of the regulatory agencies.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats.

Permit me a few thoughts.

1. The federal agencies are under control of the EXECUTIVE BRANCH of government. Regardless of the Democrats takeover of the LEGISLATIVE BRANCH, last time I checked the Republicans controlled the EXECUTIVE BRANCH.

2. All agencies are already controlled by appointees from the EXECUTIVE BRANCH. To suggest that the President, as the CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER of the Federal Government can't impose his will on federal agencies is not only ludicrous, but reveals either a basic misunderstanding of the United States of America or (more realistically) is intended to deliberatly deceive and misinform the readers of the NY Times regarding the functioning of the Federal Government (I don't criticize the Times running the story, it is in fact a newsworthy development, only the political spin they have put to it).

3. Bureaucrats are notorious for skirting the bounds of the law and constantly seeking to expand their power far beyond that which has been delegated to them either by the President or Congress. As my buddy Paul Noe is quoted as saying , the point of this executive order is to make the inner workings of the federal bureacracy more transparent. Certainly the NY Times agrees the public demands a right to now what is going on at federal agencies run largely by unelected bureacrats - reporting to no one - who exert phenomenal control over the nations direction.

4. Get over it. Right now, there is at least a 50% chance that the next President could be a Democrat. Last time I checked, Bill Clinton had just as many poroblems with career bureaucrats at EPA and the Department of Interior as George Bush has (funny, how those same complaints weren't given the prominence in the NY Times that they are now). Wonder if the Times will be singing a different tune in 2 years.



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