It’s been a bad week for the EPA. And an even worse week if you’re a fish or other wildlife living in or near the Animas River of southwestern Colorado. A mine cleanup project being conducted at the direction and under the control of the EPA resulted in a massive breach that caused millions of gallons of toxic crud to spill into the Animas River. Some perspective on the staggering impact of this “oops” can be found here. But don’t worry folks, EPA chief Gina McCarthy says she’s sorry. Now let me think… how did an expression of remorse from BP’s ex-CEO Tony Hayward work out after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill?
The double standard that exists when it comes to mistakes made by private enterprise compared to those made by government is staggering. I actually caught some video of the Democratic governor of Colorado, his own state being damaged by the EPA’s incompetence, expressing unbelievable forbearance explaining that this was a “human event” and that humans are not perfect. The Governor also made some reference to differences between environmental damage caused by profit-seeking ventures and those from well-intentioned clean-up efforts. Huh? Tell that to the fish, wildlife, residents, and business owners along the Animas River. I don’t think they care who pulled the plug on the mine sludge nor what their intentions were. To be fair, the Governor has declared the disaster to be “in every sense, unacceptable” and then in a bit of political theater he drank water from the Animas. The Wall Street Journal opinion page took this disaster up a few days with a clever Ghostbusters spin.
What is most troubling to me is that the EPA has been empowered like never before under the current administration, even to the point of crossing the line and being rebuked by the Supreme Court a few times. At the intersection of growing bureaucratic power, incompetence, and lack of accountability lies disaster – witness the Animas River destruction at the hands of the very agency charged with protecting it. The crux of the issue is our irrational faith and trust in the competency and altruism of government agencies juxtaposed with an equally irrational distrust of profit-seeking private enterprise. Why?
The incentives of government bureaucracies are so screwed up that accountability does not exist. Who has been held accountable for the debacle at VA Hospitals? For the politicization of the IRS? On the other hand, BP paid dearly for its sins, primarily from its own coffers as a largely self-insured corporation, and BP’s CEO resigned. Who will pay for the Animas River disaster? I’m guessing you and me… the taxpayers.
So let me get this straight. EPA Director McCarthy has a high paying government job with what I’m sure is a generous pension. Her agency is actually responsible for destroying what it is charged to protect, and who will bear the burden of the damage done by Ms. McCarthy’s incompetent agency? The same people paying for her salary, benefits, and pension. The worst possible outcome for Ms. McCarthy is that she may eventually have to escalate her apology to a resignation (though I’m not betting on it) and move on to collecting her pension without having to deal with those messy politics anymore. Maybe she and Lois Lerner can share a beach somewhere. What a great gig. Now, tell me again why do we have so much faith in government?