Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 11:00 AM
If any federal agency needs a good public relations firm, it's the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA needlessly gives itself more black eyes than any other federal agency. The Internal Revenue Service is warm and fuzzy compared to the EPA.
Most recently, a video surfaced of a regional EPA director in Texas talking about his philosophy on making examples of those who run afoul of his sensibilities. The Romans, he said, did it right.
"They'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they'd find the first five guys they saw, and they'd crucify them," he said in the video. "And that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.
"And so you make examples out of people who are in this case not complying with the law," he said. "Find people who are not complying with the law and you hit them as hard as you can and make examples of them."
He was joking about the Romans -- we hope -- but he did resign and apologize for the use of the word "crucify" after the video went viral.
But the message is clear. Some EPA officials see themselves as conquerors.
In March the EPA was at the receiving end of a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision excoriating it for the way it handled a routine Clean Water Act case. The agency threatened to slap a couple with huge fines for -- gasp! -- building a house on a vacant lot in an Idaho subdivision. The couple was told they couldn't appeal the EPA's determination that the lot was a wetland until the agency dragged them into court for defying it.
These and other missteps -- like the series of closed-door meetings EPA had on its plans to tighten its dust rules -- make the EPA look like its leadership is trying out for "The Sopranos" instead of serving the American public and protecting the environment.
Any law enforcement officer will tell you that the key to doing a good job is a professional demeanor. If an EPA official believes every developer, rancher or farmer is suspect, he, or she, will make mistakes.
Most people working for the EPA are professionals doing a difficult job to the best of their ability. They are stuck with enforcing the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, both laws in dire need of updating.
The ESA doesn't accomplish its goal of bringing major species back from the brink of extinction but does create multibillion-dollar burdens for taxpayers and businesses.
The water act is overly broad, forcing the EPA and the courts to interpret what "waters of the United States" means.
The EPA didn't write the Endangered Species Act or the Clean Water Act. Congress did, about 40 years ago. They need to be fixed.
In the meantime, EPA's leadership needs to take a close look at what it's doing, and why. Any PR professional will advise that the best public relations is good public policy.
Maybe that's where the EPA comes up short.