by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Government has many tools to instill public confidence. The most praiseworthy ones are transparency and accountability. When government works in the open and invites feedback, citizens can feel like they are part of the process, instead of being imposed upon by outside forces.
But what happens when government just pretends to work in the open, in order to mollify public concerns?
As it prepared to issue its new rule on water regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency faced a great deal of public concern and resistance from landowners and farmers. Given recent and aggressive EPA actions against landowners, there were fears that the rule would dramatically expand EPA jurisdiction over every ditch and gully in America capable of holding a mud puddle.
To mollify critics, the EPA invited public comments, as agencies must do in the regulatory process. Later, its administrator, Gina McCarthy, would boast that it received nearly 1 million comments on the rule — nearly 90 percent of which were in favor.
“The input helped us understand the genuine concerns and interests of a wide range of stakeholders and think through options to address them,” McCarthy recently wrote on her blog.
What McCarthy did not mention, and what was reported last week in the The New York Times, is that the EPA used government resources to coordinate with environmentalist groups in order to achieve this 90 percent support. Through an intense effort in what is known as “grassroots lobbying,” the government worked to encourage people on one side of the debate to make their voices heard, so as to skew perceptions of public opinion.