Enough About Pollution Regulations; Here's a Riff on Amy Winehouse

By Al Kamen
Friday, February 1, 2008

There's often something almost magical when government bureaucrats begin blogging. Take the extraordinary blog The Flow of the River (http://flowoftheriver.epa.gov), by Marcus Peacock, the Environmental Protection Agency deputy administrator. We're told it's been a source of great entertainment for the staff there.

These postings are deeply personal ruminations, running two or three a week; they include riffs on friendship, kids, culture, theater and family travel. Since this is, after all, a government Web site, they seamlessly segue to EPA management themes.

An angst-ridden Peacock posted this last week:

"I once borrowed a friend's goggles to go snorkeling. I got into the water and couldn't see much of anything. It was all fuzzy. Turns out he forgot to tell me they were prescription goggles. Sometimes, however, you see more, not less, when you look through someone else's goggles.

"There are moments, late at night, when I wonder if I'm spending my time working on the right things. Are measures, goals, quarterly reports, best practices, and regular management meetings important to making EPA a more effective agency?"

Of course they are. If you doubt it for a moment, call OMB regulators and they'll put your mind at ease. Now go back to sleep.

On Wednesday, Peacock, 47, opined on rock megastar Amy Winehouse, the singing sensation who has a serious alcohol and drug problem. "She is an incredibly skilled person," he wrote. "She is also incredibly self-destructive."

But, he says, "here's the fascinating question: would a 'clean' Amy Winehouse still be Amy Winehouse? What if someone had grabbed her when she was still impressionable and sent her down a different, cleaner, path? What if we had the talent without the drugs?"

"Some say we wouldn't want that," he writes, ". . . Janis Joplin without heroin would have just been another singer. I can't go there."

But the riff allowed Peacock to muse on the benefits of early intervention. "A good management system . . . forces people to consider how they are doing" and rewards those who "bring bad news early."

That may be why EPA chief Stephen Johnson announced Dec. 20 that he would not grant California, Maryland and a dozen other states a waiver so they could impose tougher mileage standards than automakers want.

EPA staff and lawyers are working feverishly -- at least when they're not reading Peacock's blog -- to justify that decision to Congress by Feb. 15. But at least Johnson got the bad news out early.

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