The Partisanship of the EPA

Pollution, by definition, is waste. And waste, by definition is inefficient. It is waste! Why is it hard to get some in the business community to see this?” Carl Cannon asks in a Real Clear Politics interview.

The premise of Mr. Cannon’s question is that most business leaders don’t understand how to deal with their waste, and that they should appreciate any outsider’s viewpoint on how to deal with it in a more productive manner, as opposed to conducting business in the manner they have for years, sometimes decades, and that they should stop viewing those “that are only trying to help them” in an adversarial manner.

Daniel Fiorino

       Daniel Fiorino

The interview subject Daniel Fiorino, Director of the Center for Environmental Policy at American University in Washington, D.C., agrees with the premise of this question. He basically states that most businesses don’t understand the virtues of the assistance that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can provide them, and as evidence of this, Mr. Fiorino cites a time when he visited a business where the accountability for energy efficiency was scattered, because the decisions made by a separate branch of this business occurred in a different city.  Mr. Fiorino concedes that this compelling evidence for the need for an EPA happened 15 years ago, and he added: “I don’t think that happens anymore.”

As usual with like-minded people having a political discussion, their problem is a matter of perspective. They are viewing the tarnished relationship the EPA has with business, and the Republican Party, from a sympathetic position, looking out on those that have an adversarial position, wondering why those people don’t see the situation in the same manner they do.

Mr. Cannon would refute this characterization of the discussion by saying that one of the subjects of their discussion was that the EPA was created by Republicans, President Richard M. Nixon, and how in the discussion, he wonders aloud how this “Republican” agency has lost the support of so many Republicans –and although he doesn’t state this in this manner— how those in business community could also began to deal with the EPA in an adversarial manner, if it’s a Republican creation.

Anyone that knows the history of the EPA in America, dating back to 1970, knows that the relationship was not intended to be this adversarial.  The primary driver of the EPA was to promote better, more effective and efficient ways for businesses to deal with their waste in a manner that would lead to cleaner air and cleaner water, and many “man on the streets” EPA acolytes still believe that this is the EPA’s primary, and sole, driver, and the “man on the street” doesn’t understand how anyone could be against that?

The EPA, by its very nature, could be said to be adversarial to business, even in 1970, and in a Republican administration.  No business likes to be told what to do, how to do it, or if they’re doing anything wrong in any way.  Bosses don’t like having bosses in other words, but even the most conservative business man would have to admit that the EPA has done some good over the course of its forty-year existence. Even the most ardent Republican would have to admit that the rivers they used to swim in, as kids, are cleaner, that they are rarely hit with the fumes that some businesses used to emit into the public air, while riding in their parents’ car to the city zoo, and they would agree with the general principle that cleaner water and cleaner air is a good thing. Most Republicans and business owners would also have to admit, perhaps begrudgingly, that the creation of the EPA wasn’t a total waste of time. Something has happened over the course of the last forty-five years, however, that has diverted the EPA away from their primary driver of cleaner air and cleaner water into an arena most business owners, and most farmers, have declared as anti-business.

Ask a member of the business community, as opposed to a Director of the Center for Environmental Policy at American University in Washington, D.C., for their perspective on their relationship with the EPA, and how things have gone awry, and one of the first words you’ll hear is overreach. You’ll hear them talk about this government agency in a manner most people speak of most government agencies, “The EPA may have begun with nothing but the most saintly intents, but it has been bastardized over time, as it searched for ways to define, and then justify, its own existence, and after the left of center politicos stepped in to assist it with that definition and justification to help make it even more purposeful.”

Ask an uninvolved “man on the street” why they may have a negative opinion of the EPA, and you’ll likely hear the word overreach there too, in some form. They may not use the exact same verbiage one that has direct interaction with the EPA would use, but the gist of their answer will involve a description of the EPA evolving from an institution that may have been created as a hand holding agency to a hands on agency, or a macro manager to a micro manager in their relationship with corporate America and farmers.

If a less than sympathetic interviewer had a chance to interview Mr. Fiorino, the first question they would have almost been required to ask him, after allowing him to make his case is, “I think we can all agree that the premise of human relationships is such that they are a two-way street, as any of us that have been in long-term relationships know all too well. We know that it takes a humble person, with a strong constitution, to admit that they’ve made mistakes, or that they’ve been categorically wrong in some cases.  If that person wants that relationship to last, and prosper, however, they know there are things they can do –no matter how wrong they believe the other party is— to rectify anything they may have done wrong, and/or change their behavior as warranted. That relationship can accidentally get locked into the adversarial if they don’t.  My question to you, based on this analogy is, what would the business community say has led to the two of you getting locked into this adversarial relationship?

If Fiorino is the typical wonkish Washingtonian, he would filibuster with a history of the EPA that basically leaves all listeners (that are still awake) with the unmistakable notion that Mr. Fiorino doesn’t believe the EPA hasn’t really done anything wrong, per se, but that they can, and will, do things better in the future, like having a conversation about greater flexibility, that they need to sit down and have a dialogue with business owners and Republican leaders over these matters to figure out how to discuss one of Mr. Fiorino’s themed discussions: “You don’t have to trade environmental protection for economic success.” It would also lead discerning listeners to the idea that Mr. Fiorino believes that there are ways to make business leaders more agreeable to the ways and means of the EPA, as opposed to the other way around.

A decent follow up question would only pound this relationship-theme point home with a: “We’ve all been in situations where our human relationships have become derailed, and these moments always call for some degree of self-examination. My question to you, as someone that has been involved in the EPA for (X) number of years is, what has the EPA done differently over the course of the last 40 years, that may have led Republicans, and perhaps more importantly business leaders, to believe that their relationship with the EPA is now an adversarial one. And what, specifically, could the EPA now do to heal those wounds and rebuild that relationship?”

If Mr. Fiorino is the typical wonkish Washingtonian, he would remain vague with talk of flexible proposals and efficiency goals, and talk of having a national conversation on the matter, and he would probably say something along the lines of “other than some changes that have been made to keep up with the times, the central goals of the EPA have not changed”.  And from Mr. Fiorino’s perspective all of these answers may, indeed, be honest and heartfelt, but if he denied that the perspective of the EPA has changed, and the scope of the EPA’s efforts haven’t become more burdensome, very few could deny that his perspective is, at the very least, limited.

The answers Mr. Fiorino gave to Mr. Cannon may have been the same regardless the degree of sympathy the interviewer had for the cause, or the degree of aggressiveness employed by the interviewer, and as I said that very consistency may prove his passion for the cause, and his heartfelt beliefs, but it would also represent an ideological blind spot the man has that may cloud whatever conflict resolution ideas he brings to the interview. He may be one of those that stubbornly adheres to Cannon’s initial question, why can’t Republicans and the business community understand that you’re just trying to help them? And any answers, and non-answers, he provides beyond all that, only illustrate the problem of the great divide between these two parties in this conflict.


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