RIDENOUR: No time for zealots

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COMMENTARY:

President Obama vowed to set a new direction of ethics and transparency in government. With his selection of Carol M. Browner as his climate control czar, he has done so - and it is the wrong direction.

An environmental zealot, Mrs. Browner has so much baggage she could be an airline.

But then, maybe not! For despite Mrs. Browner’s best efforts, some of her baggage simply won’t stay lost. The Washington Examiner recently discovered she was one of 15 original members of the Commission for a Sustainable World Society, a branch of the Socialist International, an organization linking socialist and labor parties throughout the world. Among other things, its Declaration of Principles “demands compensation for … social inequities.”

That’s another way of saying that if you’ve prospered because of ingenuity or hard work, be prepared to give a lot of it away to those who haven’t.

The issue isn’t that Mrs. Browner is a socialist. We crossed the socialism bridge - a real bridge to nowhere - when we sent a man to the White House who promised to spread our wealth around. The real issue is the attempt to hide this fact from the public. Mrs. Browner’s photograph, which once appeared alongside that of close Vladimir Putin-ally Sergei Mironov, was quietly removed from the Socialist International’s Web site after the Examiner’s story broke. Much like the trillions of dollars in bailouts and economic stimulus, it’s as though Mrs. Browner never existed.

This isn’t transparent government, but all too transparent politics. Mrs. Browner has a lot more baggage, too.

Throughout her years as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration, EPA officials routinely violated the Anti-Lobbying Act - a law prohibiting federal employees from using agency money for “telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device intended or designed to influence in any manner a Member of Congress.”

In 1995, the EPA flagrantly violated that law when it lobbied against the Job Creation and Wage Enhancement Act, a bill that would have curbed some of the EPA’s worst abuses.

As James F. Hinchman, comptroller general of the United States, noted, EPA officials “distributed EPA fact sheets to various organizations … directly lobbied the Congress.” Not only that, but an EPA regional administrator wrote a strong Op-Ed designed to stop the bill’s passage.

Four years later, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, accused the EPA of violating the Anti-Lobbying Act again. Mr. Byrd - who has made a career of steering pork to his state - complained that the EPA’s Transportation Partners Program was coordinating and funding anti-road lobbyists against the law and his state’s interests. Mrs. Browner was forced to terminate the program.

The following year Mrs. Browner was at it yet again. This time, her agency was accused of allowing special interests to improperly influence last-minute - so-called “midnight” - environmental regulations. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the EPA to preserve communications with such groups. Instead, Mrs. Browner had her computer hard drive re-initialized, wiping it clean. Judge Lamberth subsequently held the EPA in contempt for “contumacious conduct.”

As little respect as she has shown for the law, she has shown even less for science. During her years at the EPA, agency scientists who didn’t tow the party line were subjected to relentless harassment.

Dr. David Lewis, an EPA Science Achievement Award recipient, publicly criticized the quality of science used in crafting regulations. In response, the EPA charged Dr. Lewis with ethics violations and repeatedly denied him promotion. Although he won whistleblower judgments against the EPA, he was eventually forced to retire.

The term “czar” comes from the Latin word caesar - as in Julius Caesar, the Roman leader who proclaimed himself dictator perpetuo (dictator in perpetuity) and oversaw massive expansion of government bureaucracy. Of course, her official title is coordinator of climate and energy policies.

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