- - Thursday, June 5, 2014

President Obama’s latest scheme to send American coal workers to the unemployment lines represents an enormous expansion of the power of the Environmental Protection Agency. The federal environmental bureaucracy can’t even manage the power that it has.

The agency released rules Monday to severely restrict carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants over the next 15 years. The arrangement effectively gives the EPA the authority to say how much Americans will pay for electricity, the kind of energy they can buy and even how many new jobs are to be created.

The EPA’s own inspector general questions the competency of the organization. He quietly issued a report last week about the agency’s failure to properly manage dozens of contractors working on global-warming initiatives. The bottom line is that government property was stolen, contract employees were not qualified to do the work they were paid to do, and taxpayers were overcharged. Poor management, weak oversight and general buffoonery at EPA headquarters cost taxpayers big time.

Investigators examined a fishy provision in one contract that was meant to provide services for carbon-dioxide sequestration and reduction of “greenhouse gas.” The agency was so detached from the work that it failed to tell contractors exactly what was expected of them. Contractors took advantage of this by turning what was meant to cost $310,917 into a three-year boondoggle that eventually cost more than $2 million.

Contract employees who don’t exist were paid big salaries. The contractors soon realized they could outsource jobs to their friends while EPA managers kept signing the invoices. This cost taxpayers at least $163,000.

There could be more to the story, but the EPA record keeping was so shoddy that the inspector general’s investigators only scratched the surface of scandal. The original scheme was scrapped, and the EPA hired someone else to start over.

This was just a sliver of a contract in an agency that outsources $4.6 billion in work. It’s likely that the fraud nobody can see costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

A recent EPA report to Congress admits outlandish spending sprees. The bureaucracy paid $1.5 million to store 18 million outdated pamphlets and publications that should have gone to a landfill years ago.

More than half of the purchases made on EPA-managed government credit cards were inappropriate, according to another audit. After taking a small sample of agency credit cards, investigators learned that EPA officials “improperly spent” $79,254 to pay for gym memberships, expensive dinners and extravagant gift cards. The EPA inspectors tallied more than $40 million in “questioned costs” (i.e., theft or waste) at the agency over the past six months.

This seems to be acceptable behavior in the Obama administration. No EPA administrator has been fired. Operations haven’t been overhauled, and employees aren’t held to account. Mr. Obama has promoted agency officials to serve on his new economic death panel. The first to go was coal.