Skip to content

Clean Air Through the Looking Glass

Oh the delicious irony of modern politics. In 2001, after deciding that it’s previous attempt to comply with an EPA dictate for cleaning the air by oxygenating gasoline had resulted mainly in dirtier water, the state of California banned the oxygenating compound MBTE and requested a waiver from the EPA regulation to avoid a mandated switch to ethanol. The state’s argument, that there were other ways to achieve the objective (cleaner air) than what the regulation specified, may or may not have merit — it’s not clear how much of the dispute over that is science and how much is politics. But when, in the past, has that argument even mattered to Democrats — and the California government is pretty much entirely composed of Democrats — when an environmental regulation was at stake?

This letter was submitted to the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle, but not published.

14 June 2001

The EPA decision to deny California a waiver to its ethanol mandate has been characterized in California as a craven political cave-in to pressure from farm-state lobbyists. Perhaps it was. But the sheer magnitude of the hypocrisy on display over this issue, from both proponents and opponents of the decision, eclipses such trivially practical considerations, threatening to push us all over the edge of sanity into high farce.

It was bad enough that an EPA controlled by a Republican party which has been adamant for the last two decades in its principled stance against “process-oriented” regulation in favor of “outcome-oriented” regulation would refuse to set aside one of the best examples of that particular sin. California argued that, with technical and policy advances in the last ten years, the outcome — cleaner air — could be achieved in ways other than the specific technological prescription coded into the regulation; this ‘conservative’ EPA recoiled in horror, insisting that the process must be followed, outcomes (and cost) be damned. So much for principle.

Now we have to listen to the entire California political establishment, controlled by a Democratic party that never met an environmental regulation it didn’t like, thunder with self-righteous indignation over the fact that an environmental regulation will actually be enforced! This is the same bunch that makes a sport of pommeling any Republican who dares to mention that cost ought — maybe, please — to be considered when making such decisions. This is the bunch that treats any suggestion that any particular regulation might be, perhaps, less than effective, or counter-productive, or out of date as an attack upon the very foundation of environmental protection. And now they are shocked — SHOCKED! — to discover that regulating is going on in that establishment!

I used to feel merely dispossessed by a political system in full retreat from common sense. I thought that our would-be leaders at least stood for something, however extreme that something might be. But now I see that I misunderstood the situation. We’ve fallen through the looking glass — and discovered, too late, that it was a fun-house mirror.

© Copyright 2001, 2005, Augustus P. Lowell

Leave a Reply