What Would Browner Think?

It’s a huge honor and thrill to be invited to join the ranks of the original Pajamahadeen at Power Line, and I’ll try hard to live up to the standard Paul Mirengoff and the rest of the troika have set. It’s a tough assignment: John already has the beauty pageant beat, and Scott the music and culture beat. Paul was Power Line’s incomparable sports correspondent, and while I’ll try to fill that gap as best I can, my knowledge of soccer equals my level of interest in the sport–close to zero. If soccer were any more boring, it’d be farming. (Sorry, Paul.) On the other hand, can there be any better sign that America is getting back to basics than the fact that the next Super Bowl pits the Steelers versus the Packers–teams with names taken from two core industries otherwise battered by regulation and foreign trade?
So I’ll offer my first sports dispatch with reference to Charles Murray’s quiz about how to tell whether you’re a member of the elite class or the class of real Americans oriented outside the Bos-Wash corridor. (What does this have to do with Carol Browner? Patience, I’ll get there.) Charles asked in a widely noted Washington Post article a few weeks back whether people could identify, without Google, Jimmy Johnson–not the football coach, but the NASCAR driver. I saw him and raised him Dennis Anderson and Tom Meents.
Yup–we’re talking monster trucks. Anderson is the driver of the legendary Grave Digger (who, strangely, wins almost all of the competitions), while Meents pilots Maximum Destruction. Who says American exceptionalism is dead? Who else but Americans could combine the melodrama of professional wrestling, the kinetics of demolition derby, the celebrity driver culture of NASCAR, and the high octane and decibels of drag racing? Not even the French on a Jerry Lewis bender could come up with this. The one aspect of the professional wrestling and NASCAR scene notably absent from monster truck culture is scantily clad women, but as about one-third of the audience is boys under age 10, I guess I can understand this.
So yesterday I took in my first ever indoor monster truck show at the Verizon Center in downtown DC, part of the Monster Jam 2011 series that will culminate in the World Finals in Las Vegas in March (I’ll be there!). Strangely, there is no coverage of the results in today’s Washington Post sports page. (I’ll save the suspense: Grave Digger swept all three categories of the competition.) Between Grave Digger’s aerobatics, the quad racing, and the motocross aerial circus, my first thought, as an environmental policy wonk, was: “This has to be a massive air quality violation.” I am sure the ambient air inside the Verizon Center was above at least three of the six one-hour “criteria” air pollution standards. Just think of the children! How did our puritanical pursuers of second-hand smoke let this get by?
And that made me thankful that the Washington elite ignores monster trucks after all. Carol Browner, recently and happily departed from the White House, played the “do it for the children” card to justify every new regulatory extension when she ran the EPA under Clinton. And even though she is gone, the EPA continues on automatic pilot extending regulations long past the point of diminishing returns.
One of the well-known but glaring incongruities of modern life is that indoor air quality, in American homes especially, is often much worse than outdoor air quality, but fortunately we don’t monitor and regulate people’s homes. Instead, the EPA is currently extending regulation of outdoor air pollution beyond the point that it will deliver any health benefits, while at the same time our government demands that we use mercury-laden light bulbs in our homes that present a much greater risk than any mercury emissions from industrial sources (as noted here on Power Line a few days ago).
Now, when it comes to regulating indoor air pollution, I can hear the ghost of Ronald Reagan: Don’t give them any ideas! Actually, the idea of regulating indoor air quality in private residences has come up from time to time. And in one of those strange coincidences, the bureaucrat who ran California’s Department of Health Services Indoor Air Quality Program and who advocated more government regulation of indoor air quality was a fellow named . . . Steven Hayward. This other Dr. Hayward has passed away, though you can still find him on the internet (under Steven B. Hayward). Our mail used to get mixed up from time to time when I lived in Sacramento. But about one thing I’m sure: he didn’t go to monster truck rallies. Grave Digger and friends are safe–for the moment.

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