Back during the happy days of Watergate, everyone looked for "the crime." That some people had lied, there was no doubt. That some people were covering up, there was also no doubt. The question was why were they lying and what were they covering up? The answer to that question was known as the smoking gun.
Now there is a similar search for a smoking gun, only this time it is at the Environmental Protection Agency. Once again, it appears that some people are lying and once again we can hear the whirl of those infamous paper shredders and once again heads are rolling, only we do not know quite why. What, some ask, is the crime? It is this: The Reagan administration is guilty of fulfilling its own campaign promises.
Now this may not sound like much, but it is quite a serious offense. When it comes to protecting the environment, it means that the administration put a muzzle on the EPA, which is, after all, pretty much what it promised to to. This is why EPA Administrator Anne (Gorsuch) Burford was able to halve the budget and this is why Rita Lavelle found that when it came time to lunch, industry representatives were the company she preferred to keep. Environmentalists make her throw up.
But what is true at EPA is true at other agencies. The Legal Services Corporation would love to get out of the business of providing lawyers for the poor. At the Department of Health and Human Services, population control has been subordinated to Norman Rockwell morality. James Watt's Interior Department would love to shoot Smokey the Bear and the Justice Department would prefer it if someone else, maybe private enterprise, would look after civil rights while it zealously screens foreign films.
You can go down the line in this administration and find, almost without exception, that in agency after agency the administration took its campaign promises more to heart than the laws establishing those agencies.The Federal Trade Commission went from being a robust agency to the Great Wimp of Pennsylvania Avenue. The school lunch program is being run by someone who boasts about how the program has been reduced--although there is not the slightest evidence submitted that there are fewer hungry children. Only the Defense Department is actually serving its constituency.
You may ask, what is so wrong about this? Was it not to be expected that with a new administration would come a new ideology--a new way of governing? Yes. But the people who elected Ronald Reagan did not necessarily elect him to dismantle the programs that other presidents and others congresses had established. The president learned this the hard way when he tried to tamper with Social Security. He was told in no uncertain terms that no one elected him to mess around with that.
And, ironically, this is what the president has discovered in other areas as well. When it comes to arms control, for instance, the old Reagan position--namely that it is, as Kenneth Adelman said, a "sham"--has been junked. It has been replaced by more moderate language and maybe, soon, a more moderate negotiating position. The same could be said of foreign aid, which was once nothing but evil, and even for taxes which once were only supposed to be reduced. Twice, though, they have been raised.
In some cases, administration policy has been reversed because it was either found to be inapplicable or simply unworkable. In other cases, it's been reversed because it was found to be too unpopular--in other words, not politic. This was true of Social Security. There just was no mandate to fool with it.
But it is also true of EPA. The administration has learned that clean air and clear water are not slogans concocted by weirdos who eat tree bark, but the concerns of most Americans. As a result, it is now trying to conceal that for two years it has ignored those concerns and trashed the very agency most Americans were relying on to safeguard the environment--the EPA. Other crimes may have been committed at the EPA, but the true smoking gun is nothing more than the administration's record on the environment. It is crime enough.