EPA Says: Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Steve wrote here about the Environmental Protection Agency’s accidental release of mining waste containing arsenic and lead into the Animas River in Colorado. The spill is a disaster of the first magnitude, as the river has been turned a bright, toxic orange:

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The EPA is sorry about the spill. Administrator Gina McCarthy says the spill is “really a tragic and very unfortunate incident.” She added that the EPA is “taking responsibility” for the incident.

Well, sort of. But not the kind of responsibility that Freedom Industries took when it accidentally discharged 10,000 gallons of toxic material into West Virginia’s Elk River last year. In that case, the EPA and the FBI came down on Freedom Industries like a hammer. The company and several of its employees were criminally prosecuted. The company was forced into bankruptcy, and several of its employees went to jail.

Nor did Gina McCarthy confine herself to calling the Elk River spill a “tragic and very unfortunate incident.” She denounced Freedom Industries and unleashed a criminal investigation:

EPA … sent a Special Agent from our Criminal Investigation Division to the site. The Special Agent, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charleston and the FBI, conducted more than 100 interviews and launched a joint investigation into the cause of the disaster.

Those who live downstream from the EPA’s spill have been harshly critical of the agency. It delayed for a day before announcing that the spill had happened, and initially estimated the amount discharged into the river at one million gallons (not 10,000, as in the Elk River case). It later turned out that the true quantity was three million gallons, and the bright orange plume has now reached New Mexico.

In what could be considered a bad joke, the EPA has reassured those living near the river by pointing out that as water flows downstream, toxicity levels decline:

Initial EPA sampling verified that the plume caused a spike in metals like copper, lead, manganese, cadmium, arsenic and zinc. At its peak, arsenic concentrations were 300 times higher than the normal level, and lead was 3,500 times the normal level, The Guardian reported. The EPA noted that this spike “began to trend towards pre-event conditions” after the first 24 hours from when the plume passed a given stretch of river….

The oldest known form of pollution control: dilution!

Residents are angry that the EPA will not be held accountable for its negligence, as a private company would be. There is certainly no danger of anyone going to prison. Still, you might wonder: are the environmental organizations that are normally so tough on polluters on the EPA’s case? No, strangely enough, they are not. Environmental activists are so in bed with the EPA that they are oozing sympathy over the agency’s plight.

MSNBC and the Natural Resources Defense Council assure us that the EPA is “working around the clock” to respond to the spill, which wasn’t really its fault anyway. And the Sierra Club released a mild statement that, while acknowledging that the EPA had “botched” its cleanup effort, placed the blame on private companies that didn’t cause the spill:

The Animas River was sadly already contaminated due to the legacy of toxic mining practices. The company that owns this mine has apparently allowed dangerous conditions to fester for years, and the mishandling of clean-up efforts by the EPA have only made a bad situation much worse. As we continue to learn what exactly happened, it’s time that the mine owners be held accountable for creating this toxic mess and we urge the EPA to act quickly to take all the steps necessary to ensure a tragedy like this does not happen again.

It is entertaining to see liberal hypocrisy in action, but there is a broader lesson here, one that we have witnessed many times. Of all institutions, government is the least responsive and the least accountable. Bureaucrats love to tell the rest of us what to do, but they have no intention of following their own rules, and they pay little or no price when they violate them. Examples could be multiplied endlessly, but let’s note just one: the IRS expects taxpayers to preserve records and be able to document their tax returns, but it has turned out that the IRS itself is utterly inept at maintaining records, and freely destroys them in violation of its own purported standards.

This lack of responsiveness and accountability is one of the fundamental reasons why we should give government less power, not more.

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