Yesterday, the WSJ published an editorial on the EPA’s massive and massively damaging river spill from an abandoned mine in Colorado. For background, the Denver CBS affiliate has a pretty good timeline of events through Tuesday. In their editorial the Wall Street Journal evokes visions of William Atherton’s execrable EPA official in the original Ghostbusters film. But there is a different pop culture parallel with much more meaning.
Roughly the same time Ghostbusters came out (the mid 1980’s), a 12 issue comic book series entitled “Watchmen,” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, was published. In comic book terms it was a monumental achievement. Without going all fanboy on you, it is the story of a group of superheroes (think Avengers or Justice League) called the Watchmen in a world where superheroes have been outlawed. Why would heroes be outlawed? Because “Who watches the Watchmen?” That question immediately came to my mind when I first encountered the story of the EPA spill.
Who watches the EPA?
Certainly the administration is not watching. But then that is old hat for them. Obama tends to view his administration officials like tenured professors – “Let ’em go.” Seriously, the latest revelation regarding his first Secretary of State are horrifying:
The FBI has taken possession of thumb drives containing Hillary Clinton’s emails, some of which have been deemed to contain highly sensitive classified information, according to a U.S. official briefed on the matter.
Bosses are supposed to keep tabs on their subordinates and fix stuff like this if it happens. Clearly Obama does not get the whole “boss” thing and is letting his employees just run amok. If he is not watching the SoS – who can get us killed by leaking secrets – it is unlikely he will be watching the EPA who is now poisoning our rivers.
Who watches the EPA?
The most noted observation about the EPA spill has been the lack of press coverage. Oh there are lots of stories out there, but remember the Exxon Valdez or the BP platform spill? – they were “STOP THE PRESSES!” full coverage all the time events – this coverage comes nowhere close. In the American system it really is the press that is supposed to “watch the watchmen.” They are who is supposed to alert the public when government is not working so that we can throw the bums out in the next election.
Sadly, the press is clearly failing at fulfilling that role. This EPA induced river spill is easily equivalent in size and hazard to the two oil spills I cited in the paragraph above. This spill is more acutely harmful to human health than either of those prior spills if simply by virtue of proximity to more human life. This is an enormous environmental disaster and full coverage is warranted. Where are the helicopters watching the bright orange plume make its way down the river 24/7? Where are the dire predictions of what will happen when this hits the Gulf of Cortez? If you are one of those people concerned about how “the system is broken,” start with the press.
But ultimately it is up to the American people to watch the watchmen. If the press is not serving us, we must serve ourselves. This spill demands a full Congressional investigation. Warm up your word processors and email; let your representative know that you do not want the EPA to skate on this. The EPA cannot fine itself, which is what would happen to any private entity that had such a spill. They may fine the contractor that was performing the work, but ultimately this is their fault. Did the contract contain sufficient provisions to prevent an occurrence like this? What were the quality control procedures EPA was using to ensure compliance with the terms of the contract? Why did they fail? If the EPA cannot properly manage and control their own direct contractor how in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks can they be expected to oversee the environment of the nation?
Congress has a rare opportunity on its hands. An out-of-control federal agency can be brought to heel, perhaps even eliminated, in the wake of a disaster of these proportions. They must act.