The recent string of personnel and occupational embarrassments at the EPA leaves the impression that analytical reasoning may not be one of the Agency’s strong suits. So it’s little surprise that when it came to devising one of the most costly and complex regulations in the nation’s history – the recently proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) – it turned to its partner, the environmental activist group the NRDC, to lay the policy framework.
The New York Times reported yesterday that this framework was the product of just three NRDC members who came together in 2010 with the goal of building a carbon emissions policy for the EPA. By 2012, they had a 110 page document that, with the help of their Washington insider status, they successfully peddled to state legislatures, the EPA, and the Obama Administration.
While the Times blithely acknowledges the close relationship between the two organizations, it ignores the obvious subsequent question: Should the EPA, a federal agency tasked with a scientific mission, outsource its mandate to the NRDC, a radical environmental organization with an extreme policy-focused mission?
The EPA tried to answer this question by distancing itself from the NRDC, saying on its blog that the CPP was the product of “literally thousands” of thoughtful stakeholders, not “one group or even one sector.” It protests too much. Aside from the similarities of the two proposals, the organizations’ long history of collusion indicts them in this instance. (They engage extensively in so-called “sue-and-settle” advocacy and maintain a “revolving door” so big that former NRDC workers at the EPA and in friendly offices on the Hill are known as the “NRDC Mafia” – to take just two examples.)
“They were the first out of the gate,” a former EPA top official gave as the explanation for why the EPA used the NRDC’s proposal. “And the first out of the gate frames the debate.” Perhaps. But given their special relationship, it’s likely that the EPA would be willing to ride the NRDC’s horse no matter when it breaks, leaving the rest of us to suffer the consequences of an EPA that does the bidding of one specific lobby.