American Elephants


An Out-of-Control Agency of Zealots, Destroying Your Freedom. by The Elephant's Child

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You have undoubtedly seen this picture before. I haul it out every time I write about the EPA and the agencies’ effort to transform the words of the Clean Water Act which give the EPA authority over the “navigable waters of the United States of America.”

It is partly Congress’ fault. They have chosen to write bills in general form, and leave the intricacies to federal agencies to work out and regulate. This has led to the growth of government, the growth of agencies, the growth of unionization of federal agencies, bad regulation and bad law.

Undoubtedly the Congress didn’t know how to define “clean water” in a specific and legal way—in which case they had no business making such a law.

In 2006, a US.Supreme Court Case from Michigan produced five different opinions and no clear definition of which waterways were covered and which were not. This left the government with a clean slate on which to write it’s own interpretation —everything they wanted to regulate. They are zealots and want to control everything.

I wrote about this problem in May of 2011, when the EPA was suspending 79 surface mining permits in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee because they could possibly violate the Clean Water Act. They revoked the coal mining permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce Mine No.1, a permit that had been in force for 4 years and obeyed in every comma and dot.  Arch Coal provides 16% of America’s coal and have invested $250 million in the operation which would have employed 215 miners and 300 support jobs.  The President has expressed his desire to bankrupt the coal industry.

I wrote about it again in  June of 2012 when they started trying to control the land alongside ditches, gullies and temporary water sources caused by rain or snowmelt by claiming that they are part of navigable waters. It doesn’t sound scary until you recognize that it would make it harder for private property owners to use their own land, in their backyards, to grow crops, raise livestock or even raise kids. The bill they had then had 64 co-sponsors, and John Barrasso (R-WY) said “It’s time to get EPA lawyers our of Americans’ backyards.”

October, 2013: “The Clean Water Act charged the agency with keeping the navigable waters of the United States clean. What Congress probably had in mind was shutting down any sewers emptying improperly and keeping boats from dumping oil and stopping the Cuyahoga River from catching fire. In many places the water naturally contains some methane. Not harmful to people, but it can catch fire.”

There was a big arsenic flap where some springs were found to contain arsenic in what were presumed to be dangerous quantities. The EPA made a nationwide regulation determining that every municipality would be required to treat their water to remove any trace of arsenic. Many communities had no arsenic in their water, but the agency demanded expensive water treatment anyway. In the case of safety for humans, many things that are poisonous in large quantities are perfectly safe in small quantities. The rule is always “the dose makes the poison.”

In 2013, they were going for a proposed rule—the “Water Body Connectivity Report” which removed the limiting word “navigable” from “navigable waters of the United States” and replaces it with “connectivity of streams and wetlands to downstream waters” Whoa! Change one word officially and expand your overreach by billions. Congress saw what they were trying to do and demanded answers. I don’t know how that one turned out, but it would seem to be this one.

A little over a week ago, the House passed legislation that would prevent the EPA from implementing a proposed rule to define its jurisdiction over bodies of water. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said the rule does not significantly expand the agency’s existing authority. Uh huh. Republicans said the rule would go too far and subject trivial bodies of water to federal regulation.

You see how slow the legislative process is. The Bill passed the House 263-152. Vulnerable Democrats broke with their party and signed on. Before final passage the House rejected 179-240 an amendment offered by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) that would prevent enactment if implementation would harm water quality. The White House issued a veto threat, saying it “would derail current efforts to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act, hamstring future regulatory efforts, and create significant ambiguity regarding existing regulations and guidance.”

Harry Reid would be unlikely to bring the bill to a vote. You have heard much about a “Do Nothing Congress,” which is a Democrat slander. The Republican House of Representatives has passed over 297 bills, a fairly standard number for a session. The Do Nothing Democrat-led Senate has passed just 59 bills— the fewest number of any Senate session since 1972. So the next time the President claims the Republicans aren’t doing anything, which he does with some regularity — he’s just doing politics again. Harry Reid tries to avoid bringing anything to a vote that the president would have to veto.

If you attend a town hall meeting with one of your representatives, you might let them know you’re concerned. Or give them a phone call. Those probably get tallied. I suspect emails just vanish into the ether. They really don’t want to hear from you.



Struggling to Understand This President. by The Elephant's Child

Barack Obama
Another day, another attempt to figure out who our president is. Today, it’s Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. Peter Baker had a long piece in the New York Times, on the 13th, with some excerpts from a series of off-the-record dinners while he was weighing action in Iraq. And another from Walter Russell Mead on the 14th in The American Interest. All are interesting and worth your time. Peggy Noonan’s piece destined for the Friday paper already has 260 comments, many rude, some not.

Americans have a long history of disagreeing with their presidents, loving them, hating them, believing the end of the world is nigh, and wanting desperately to make them stop doing what they are doing. Does it all mean anything?

I read somewhere today that the majority of Americans cannot name the three branches of government. Are we all terminally stupid and need smarter people at the helm to manage us and our affairs? The conclusion I reach is that people are puzzled by Barack Obama and do not understand why he is doing what he is doing,

“I was not here in the run-up to Iraq in 2003,” he told a group of visitors who met with him in the White House before his televised speech to the nation, according to several people who were in the meeting. “It would have been fascinating to see the momentum and how it builds.”

In his own way, Mr. Obama said, he had seen something similar, a virtual fever rising in Washington, pressuring him to send the armed forces after the Sunni radicals who had swept through Iraq and beheaded American journalists. He had told his staff, he said, not to evaluate their own policy based on external momentum. He would not rush to war. He would be deliberate.

“But I’m aware I pay a political price for that,” he said.

That’s from Peter Baker. Well, yes. It’s clear that he intends to be deliberate, probably for a long time. He also intends to control everything himself. He is ignoring any and all advice from his military advisors and generals with long experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will approve every strike of our Air Force in Syria personally. Is this back to “I’m probably a better general than my generals,” kind of thing—like when he said he was a better speechwriter than his speechwriters? Certainly there is a degree of hubris there.

There are levels of knowledge that we usually don’t acknowledge. We credit academic degrees, and summa’s and magna’s, and titles and positions but that doesn’t really get down to the nitty-gritty of what a person really knows. We all know of academics with grand degrees who are so narrow and ideological that they’re essentially dumb as posts.

What about those generals whose advice the president does not want? They probably attended one of our nation’s military academies, which are some of the best schools in the country. Today’s officers usually get advanced degrees while they are serving, and the military has its own intensive schools like the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. They may be sent to language school and they learn how to apply all the training they get in practice by leading troops, and by making mistakes and learning from that. And many lead troops in combat and learn the lonely role of command, and victory and loss. And some will be very good generals whose depth of knowledge resulted in wisdom, and some will never reach that point. But there is a lot of knowledge behind their advice, which doesn’t mean that they are always right — just that there is a lot of knowledge behind their advice — and it pays to listen.

I think that pretty much explains the problem, without further explication. In his first term Obama surrounded himself with some strong advisers. Having won a second term, he feels more confident and has chosen sycophants who make him more comfortable because they inevitably agree or because they share his outlook, and a sorry bunch it is. The president looks at the world through a narrow political lens, and all is calculated on  the basis of how it will reflect on him.

But what about America?




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