Lord, here we go again! With the scent of the kill filling the flared and twitching nostrils of "the observers" in Washington, and with good old "high emotion" vaporizing all desire to seek reason and balance, the "pack" is circling in on the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator, Anne Gorsuch. It reminds me of that old cartoon of the two buzzards in the tree, with one saying, "Patience, my ass. I'm going to kill something!"
I am not an apologist for Anne Gorsuch. She beautifully expresses her own thoughts in a very frank and candid manner -- an interesting woman. Yes, I, too, have heard the same comments about her -- that she is aloof, cold, tough as hell, arrogant, confrontational, sly -- the full spectrum of adjectival abuse.
Have you ever seen a pack of coyotes? They are not the kind of warm and furry animals that you pat gently on the head and feed a dish of warm milk. They circle their prey -- fired up and lathered by the chase -- and then rip at the throat. They will polish off a lamb in pretty short order. Anne Gorsuch is not perceived as being a lamb -- indeed not -- and it may be that fact alone that has helped get the old juices flowing as the pack attempts to drag her agency to its knees.
What spurs this kind of attack? What fires and focuses all this energy? It may be that everything else is too dry or boring to bear. After all, legislating -- often like administering -- is just about the driest and sometimes dullest form of human endeavor. For it consists of research, reading, reviewing, meeting with fellow legislators, amending, searching, learning, growing, determining how to compromise an issue without compromising yourself, and in humility finding how to take a crumb when you can't get a loaf. It is not high drama.
But when all of that pent-up frustration born of boredom finds a chink in the boilerplate -- then hallelujah, the chase is on! At the first mention of the word "sharedder" the old eye-and focuses all this energy? It may be that everything else is too dry or boring to bear. After all, legislating -- often like administering -- is just about the driest and sometimes dullest form of human endeavor. For it consists of research, reading, reviewing, meeting with fellow legislators, amending, searching, learning, growing, determining how to compromise an issue without compromising yourself, and in humility finding how to take a crumb when you can't get a loaf. It is not high drama.
But when all of that pent-up frustration born of boredom finds a chink in the boilerplate -- then hallelujah, the chase is on! At the first mention of the word "shredder" the old eyeballs bulge and fangs come out. With all the gleeful licking of the chops going on, and now even a new "in" title ("Sewergate"), it is sometimes difficult to inquire as to whether there is any reason or balance or fairness lurking in the organization being assaulted. Possibly we might consider taking a few moments for a presentation of "the other side."
The version of recent agency history that is currently fashionable is that the pre-Gorsuch EPA was a heady model of efficiency and fairness ("One of the most efficient and capable agencies of government," according to The New York Times). That is not the EPA I remember. I recall an EPA that was hopelessly behind schedule on the implementation of the major environmental laws, constantly mired in controversy and battles with the states and other branches of the federal government, and frequently accused of "anti-business bias" in the ideological interpretation of scientific evidence. It was an agency whose leadership was portrayed as being largely indifferent to the efficient management of the nation's resources.
Given our national fiscal situation, it was both necessary and inevitable that Anne Gorsuch would be asked to prune the EPA budget and subject agency activities to a more rigorous scrutiny than they had ever undergone before.
Perhaps some of the subsequent changes at EPA have been unwise. It is difficult to tell since there seems to be such a dearth of knowledgeable and disinterested analysis of what has really taken place. The hard-hitters in the Washington environmental community have been unremittingly hostile to Gorsuch since well before her confirmation and have always denounced in near hysterical tones virtually everything she has done. Most of Gorsuch's critics are simply so pinched and shriven with bias and partisanship that they would flunk a saliva test.
The administrator of EPA has the task of trying to enforce some of the most convoluted and ambiguous statutes and regs ever enacted. Almost every significant regulatory action she takes is challenged in court -- by someone. Not only is she subject to the constant cross fire from the environmentalists, the business community and Congress, but her actions are under a barrage of continuing judicial review. The fact that she is widely criticized does not succinctly mean that Anne Gorsuch is doing a miserable job.
An interesting example is the criticism that EPA is now getting -- from the environmentalists, of all people -- for taking seriously the statutory deadlines for attainment of clean air standards. We now hear the extraordinary argument that these attainment dates really don't have anything to do with actual air quality -- that the deadlines Congress fussed, struggled and busted its fanny over a few years ago don't apply out there in the real world. I think Anne Gorsuch might be forgiven for having the impression that she just can't win regardless of what she does.
One of the delightful ways for a lawmaker to pick up a few headlines in the old hometown press is to subpoena Gorsuch before one of the many committees and subcommittees in this place, whose staff spend an inordinate amount of hours sniffing out subject matter that can get "the boss" on the tube. Just run out a subpoena and have Anne Gorsuch haul up to the Hill, by pack mule train, about 750,000 documents having to do with, say, Superfund. It's a great and time-honored game. But is it always productive? I think not.
The theory here, when the fur begins to fly, is to get on the "right side." Which side is the right side? Quite naturally its the side that makes you a folk hero at home.
There is no question that the basic philosophy and style of this administrator is less pleasing and digestible to the environmental community than that of previous administrators. But I do labor under the longstanding illusion that a public official should be judged not on the basis of clamor or conflict but on the basis of certain results -- in this case, environmental quality. The truth is that the health of the American people and the quality of their environment are getting better, not worse. The air and water may not be as clean as we wish, but they are eminently cleaner than they were, and show continuing improvement. Hazardous waste dumps are being cleaned up. No previous EPA administrator can boast of that fact.
It is not my purpose to defend all actions that Anne Gorsuch has taken as administrator of EPA. I've surely resisted some. I know I would have handled some matters quite differently had I been in her shoes -- but who of us can object to fair and informed criticism of the record of any public official?
What I do not have much stomach for is the mindless antipathy, the raging harassment and assertions, the blatant lust for the "kill" that has been so evident recently.
Much has been made of the reduced budgets at EPA. This is seen by some thoughtful people as a lessening of the commitment to clean up our nation. Is it? What happened may be something that makes sense. Lawyers were fired and scientists were hired. Anne Gorsuch stated, "I don't need all that money for lawyers and litigants and bright stars and fancy writers and paper peddlers and white paper specialists. Just give me some 'grinders' who can sit down with the deputy, John Hernandez, and other scientists and crank out a list of the chemicals that cause difficulties for human beings. I want to know what they are, how they can be controlled, what we should be up to. Let's toss out the lawyers and hire the scientists and get some rationalization about scientific effect of chemicals." Makes sense.
I believe many of us have finally plugged our ears to the old siren song of Washington. The words and music went, "If we only had a good chunk more money and some more good people, we could do you a tremendous job." There aren't too many people left around here pumping out that guff any more -- or buying it. Many see clearly that we no longer need lengthy litigation, marvelous memorandums, ponderous tomes, distinction piled upon distinction, and paralysis by analysis. Start walking the walk instead of talking the talk.
But others still don't agree. Seems every time we take a crack at a responsible amending or reauthorization of the Clean Air Act we get letters from constituent groups who have been wired up in a miasma of misrepresentation: "Lay off the Clean Air Act, Simpson, or we'll tear your shorts off!"
Recent public opinion polls clearly show that the American people want clean air and clean water and are willing to pay for it. I go for that. This does not mean that the public's willingness to pay should be translated into a willingness of the federal government to spend itself goofy on environmental programs. We can have a clean environment and reduced budgets if appropriations are expended wisely. That is what Anne Gorsuch's administrative efforts are about -- the wise and thoughtful use of limited resources.
All federal agencies and departments are finding the going tough in these times of tremendous deficits. Should EPA be exempt from all economic constraints while our right to sensible environmental protection is already being maintained under current funding levels? None of EPA's harshest critics has shown that EPA has not continued to follow the law just as set out by Congress, nor can the critics show that the environment has been degraded, because just the opposite is true.
"Superfund" is a case in point. Under the stewardship of Anne Gorsuch, EPA has taken significant and effective actions to establish priorities to clean up some of the worst dump sites in the nation. Some will argue that litigation is preferable to any out-of-court settlements. But let us not forget that each case litigated costs the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars while always delaying the actual cleanup. Out-of-court settlements are not intrinsically evil.
So: what the hell have they been doing over there? Well, EPA has been active in reducing the backlog of state implementation plans (plans required of the states before environmental protection strategies can be approved by EPA). This backlog has been reduced by 98 percent under Anne Gorsuch.
Through management streamlining, the requested budget reduction of 50 percent in 1982 has not prevented the EPA from proposing 14 effluent guidelines and promulgating 12 of those -- when before this administration came on the scene only one was birthed after an investment of more than $100 million. For the very first time, EPA is on track with court-ordered deadlines. Is this not responsible action? One would think so.
The backlog of overdue decisions on chemical testing has been reduced by 25 percent. Backlogged applications for pesticide registrations have been reduced by 97 percent and use permit delays reduced by 83 percent. The backlog on grants and other resistance agreements has been reduced by 95 percent. The clogging of unresolved audits has dropped from 653 to 5 during the past 18 months. And if one examines the actual record, acid rain research levels have increased -- contrary to the comments of the critics.
As chairman of the subcommittee on nuclear regulation, I observe EPA's Office of Radiation Programs. That office has accomplished much since Anne Gorsuch and John Hernandez took charge. It has really zeroed in on its mission of establishing environmental standards for a variety of activities in the nuclear field, many of which were hopelessly behind schedule and had, prior to Gorsuch's arrival, been but "pacing items" for the regulatory programs of other federal and state departments and agencies. This re-emphasis of ORP's mission might well be one of the most important achievements of EPA in the nuclear field.
EPA has also proposed standards for high-level waste repositories, an issue that the agency had been grappling with for an extraordinary period of time. These standards, one adopted, will be incorporated into the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission high-level waste repository programs.
Final standards for inactive uranium mining and milling activities, which were recently promulgated by EPA, will allow DOE to move forward in its cleanup program for these inactive sites. Standards in numerous other areas related to the nuclear field have shown great progress since Gorsuch took over the shop, including standards for active uranium mill tailings sites that EPA in the past had failed to promulgate, even in the face of a statutory congressional mandate.
Because enforcement and implementation of clean air programs are two of the EPA's most important responsibilities, virtually no funding reductions have been proposed in those areas. Research support for national hazardous air emission standards has increased by $1.3 million to ensure their timely completion. The enforcement effort continues at the same funding levels as fiscal 1983, and EPA is maintaining its focus on the most significant violators, which include those tampering with auto pollution equipment and the large industrial polluters. The 17 percent reduction in state grants in this area is based on EPA's belief that improvements in federal and state operations will enable states to operate effectively with a reduction in the federal share of the total resource support.
Acid rain research will increase by $1.5 million to a total of $14 million. Total government-wide funding for acid rain will be $27.6 million, an increase of $4.3 million over the past fiscal year. Quality assurance efforts will get a $1.3 million injection.
There was an increase of nearly $1 million for improving toxic risk assessments. Total health effects studies will be funded at an increased level of $51 million, an increase felt necessary to continue be protect the health of American people
The most diligently ignored factor in EPA's budget is the increase in funding for Superfund by 48 percent -- and increases in resources for site cleanup by nearly 55 percent. If numbers alone are the game, then know that in 1982 EPA obligated 81 percent of all the funds appropriated in this program -- including obligation of 90 percent of all waste-site cleanup funds. In 1984, EPA will be expanding the number of sites where response actions will be conducted.
The EPA budget proposals for 1984 deserve sensible analysis and not ridicule. The proposals for both 1982 and 1983 have resulted in environmental progress. Programs that were dormant are now productive. Savings of nearly $200 million over the 1981 appropriations are to be achieved while the EPA continues environmental progress through a series of actions: addressing a growing number of the most dangerous hazardous waste sites; improving management of our basic regulatory process in the EPA such as in the toxic new source performance standards, effluent guidelines and pesticides programs, and basic and essential regulatory reform efforts that have enabled the agency to implement statutory responsibilities in a much more sensible and effective manner.
We hear much about the acid rain issue -- and should. We hear that EPA may be "stalling," prolonging research efforts as a means of reducing any chances for successful acid rain legislation. Yet there are (believe it or not!) professional scientists at EPA -- career people -- who survive all of the changes in administration throughout the years. The criticism leveled at EPA is a whack in the chops to these dedicated scientists and their objective work, as well as to many of the politically appointed administrators. The real truth is that Congress does need more information on acid rain -- regardless of the lack of House action or the recent action taken by the Senate. EPA has been responding to this need for more information and will certainly continue to do so. Congress does need some more information on things like: the buffering capacity of different soils; the effects of oxidant catalysis; the role of long-range transport; the efficacy of different control strategies; and the effects of windblown alkaline dust on acid rain formation. EPA is not stalling on the acid rain issue. Instead, Congress is severely reined in by a lack of finite knowledge about the cause-and-effect relationships of different industrial control strategies. Congress should take the rap on inaction and stalling on acid rain, not EPA.
Notice, too, that when persons have expressed to Anne Gorsuch that something might be awry, or that sly trickery is afoot, or that the sneak thieves are in full flight or that the shredder has shorted out -- or when they say Rita Lavelle shouldn't be working here, or that she should, or that Hugh Kaufman shouldn't be here, or that he should -- all of those mumblings, memos and meanderings get turned over to the Department of Justice. It seems like a good place to report charges of wrongdoing. If things are really out of whack, it will come out in the wash.
And finally -- isn't it interesting how "the observers" seem to foster preconceived notions about this administration and the environment? I would hope we might dispel one notion -- that the protection of the environment and the public health and safety is solely in the domain of those of the other political faith. Check out the record of the Republican Senate and a Democratic House and review the number of environmentally responsible bills that have been passed by those bodies and praised by the president as he signed them into law -- endangered species, barrier islands and nuclear waste legislation to mention but three.
Perhaps it would be well for us all -- congress-persons, "the observers" and the public we serve to consider again the words of Edmund Burke: "Those who would carry the great public schemes must be proof against the most fatiguing delays, the most mortifying disappointments, the most shocking insults and worst of all -- the presumptious judgment of the ignorant beyond their design."