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Snidely Whiplash and The Simpletons

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Snidely “Whiplash is the stereotypical villain in the style of stock characters found in silent movies and earlier stage melodrama.”  You must forgive me my references to very old, but very funny, TV cartoons, but “sterotypical” and “stock characters” are what came to mind as I encountered this story several times through the weekend:

President Donald Trump on Friday tapped a chemical industry insider to run the Environmental Protection Agency office that oversees emergency response to hazardous spills and cleanups of the nation’s most toxic sites.

The White House announced that Trump has nominated Peter C. Wright to serve as EPA’s assistant administrator for Land and Emergency Management. Wright has worked as a corporate lawyer at Dow Chemical Co. since 1999.

Each of the stories I have encountered has read like a script from one of those old stock melodramas.  The villain is clearly a villain because, while he may not wear black and have “a pencil thin mustache,” he did work for a chemical company.  And because he is so clearly evil this appointment simply must involve conflicts of interest and nefarious dealings.  Surely it is up to our hero, no not Dudley Do-Right but, the enlightened liberal bureaucrat to save the day.

Only a simpleton would see things in such cartoonish terms.

Look, here is the bottom line:

If confirmed by the Senate, Wright would oversee the EPA office that responds to such large-scale national emergencies as oil spills and unauthorized releases of chemicals or radioactive materials. Wright would also oversee the Superfund hazardous waste cleanup program.

If you know anything about how projects of this type run then you would understand the brilliance of this appointment.  Industry, those generally responsible for these releases, have no desire to endanger human health or the environment.  They are very eager to get about the business of cleaning up the mess that results from accidents that may occur.  They have insurance for such situations; they have plans for such contingencies; they have teams of people trained to respond.

But the way our bureaucracy works most of this planning, foresight and expertise sits idle while the government approves plans and corrects the spelling mistakes in the plan.  So, a job that could be complete in a year often does not start for two or three or four or five or….

And then, job seemingly done, our government officialdom enters a state of what can only be called “bureaucratic paralysis,” never quite getting around to putting the official “complete” stamp on the job.  Thus land ready for redevelopment and positive productive use sits idle, often for decades, just awaiting someone in the faceless bureaucracy to decide the job is done.

The reasons for this bureaucratic paralysis vary from the somewhat understandable “overworked and understaffed,” to focus on statistical outliers to awaiting the results of an obscure study being performed at an even more obscure university to fear of the six really angry people at the public comment meeting (ignoring the hundreds of people that would like to put the land to use.)

That’s what makes this appointment so brilliant.  Believe me when I tell you Mr. Wright has no interest in handing out special favors or endangering the public.  But he does have an interest in getting the job actually done.  Will that benefit his former employer?  Yes, they’ll be able to sell off or redevelop a whole boatload of land that has simply been languishing on their books.  Will that benefit the public interest?  Oh yeah, as the redevelopment activity will pump billions into the economy.

If only people would quit watching cartoons and actually look at how these things work.


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