Two seemingly unrelated stories from last week suggest that EPA may have its limits in how far it is going to go to make nice with those who are opposing its regulatory agenda. The first story, reported by Greenwire, is pretty much all in the headline: “EPA official accuses Kan. department of lying over proposed plant.” The second story, also from GreenWire, reported that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson referred to opponents of EPA’s greenhouse gas tailoring rule as “jack-booted thugs.” She has also described Republican efforts to limit EPA regulatory authority as a “too dirty to fail” policy.
It’s difficult to interpret at least Administrator Jackson’s remarks as anything other than part of the 2012 Presidential campaign. I realize that I may be hopelessly optimistic in asking that even campaign rhetoric make sense, but these comments don’t make sense. How is it that opponents of the tailoring rule – and I actually support the rule, though I’m not sure about EPA’s authority to promulgate it – are “jack-booted thugs”? They may have misrepresented the scope of the rule, but that hardly makes them thugs, let alone jack-booted ones.
And too dirty to fail? I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start and end with the simple point that it is not precisely because these plants are dirty that we refuse to regulate them – which is the only way the analogy to “too big to fail” could possibly make sense. This is nothing more than trying to make polluters look bad by comparing them to banks. I do feel compelled to observe that we are in a funny place when banks have a worse reputation than polluters and we have to stir up populist anger at the polluters by comparing them to the big, bad, banks.
In any case, calling your opponents liars and thugs, and describing their political strategy as supporting polluters because they are "too dirty to fail” is not going to engender a spirit of compromise. I understand EPA’s frustration with its congressional opponents. Again, I must emphasize that I support not just the tailoring rule, but may of EPA’s regulatory initiatives. I also note that EPA has taken steps – rarely noted or appreciated – to respond to the concerns of opponents. Nonetheless, aside from providing red meat to the base, this is hardly constructive. After all, it’s not as though anyone expects the Democrats to win such overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate that Lisa Jackson won’t have to deal with congressional Republicans after January 2013. Good luck with those jack-booted thugs.