by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Several commentators have characterized the selection of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to become the next EPA Administrator as a sharp stick in the eye to the agency and its employees. They’re right — and seldom has any herd of federal bureaucrats been more deserving of it. For decades, in administrations Democratic and Republican alike, the EPA has been relentlessly ideological, politicized, corrupt, and incompetent.
When I joined the Food and Drug Administration in 1979, I was essentially apolitical and knew next to nothing about federal regulation. I was a science nerd who had spent the previous 16 years in college, graduate school, medical school, and postdoctoral training. It didn’t take long until I learned about the jungle of government bureaucracies, and one of the harshest lessons concerned the perfidy and incompetence of one of the FDA’s siblings, the EPA.
I found the EPA to be relentlessly anti-science, anti-technology, and anti-industry. The only thing it seemed to be for was the Europeans’ innovation-busting “precautionary principle,” the view that until a product or activity has been definitively proven safe, it should be banned or at least smothered with regulation. In fact, during international discussions and negotiations over the harmonization of biotechnology regulations in which I participated, the EPA often seemed allied with the European Union and committed to working against U.S. interests.
To my astonishment, I found that there were entire groups within the EPA whose function it was to lie to the Office of Management and Budget and to Congress about the rationale for and impacts of their proposed regulations. And over the years, I discovered that there is a kind of underground railway by which the most incompetent, disaffected, and anti-industry employees from other regulatory agencies find their way to the EPA, creating a miasma of dysfunctional governance.