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HARPER: The press needs to focus on an out-of-control EPA

- - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Environmental Protection Administration, arguably one of worst-managed federal agencies, has also become one of the government's most powerful entities with only limited oversight from journalists.

Founded in 1970 during the Nixon administration, the EPA now boasts a massive $8 billion budget and about 16,000 employees. The agency supervises myriad programs from monitoring climate change to protecting endangered species, affecting consumer prices and the jobs that often die when the EPA implements its policies.

Take a look at some of the shenanigans that occurred at EPA over recent months, according to congressional testimony. All of these stories got widespread attention from much of the media, which have a tendency to turn up to the significant news conferences to report on these sexy stories but often fail to drill down on the more important issues handled by the agency.

John Beale, a former climate policy specialist for the EPA, bilked the government of $800,000, pretending for a decade that he worked for the CIA. Meanwhile, he didn't do much EPA work at his yearly salary with bonuses of more than $200,000. Mr. Beale was subsequently convicted and sent to jail.

Another EPA employee, who watched pornography for up to six hours a day since 2010, received performance awards for his work at the agency. The employee reportedly had 7,000 pornographic files on his office computer, but the EPA has yet to fire him.

A high-level EPA employee, Office of Administration director Renee Page, reportedly sold jewelry and weight loss pills out of her office. She also hired 17 of her family members and friends as paid interns, according to an internal investigation. Instead of being reprimanded, Ms. Page received a prestigious Presidential Rank Award in 2010, which came with a $35,000 cash bonus.

But for all the horror tales, some important stories concerning EPA policies often do not get much coverage. Take, for example, a recent Heritage Foundation analysis of the agency's proposed regulations on new and existing electricity-generating plants to control emissions of carbon dioxide. That may not sound like sexy stuff, but the think tank estimated the regulations might cost every household $1,200 a year in increased energy costs and the loss of 600,000 jobs because the EPA requirements will essentially put coal-fired plants out of business over the next two decades.

"The casualties will extend well beyond the coal industry, hurting families and businesses and taking a significant toll on American manufacturing across the nation," the report said.

The foundation's impact model noted that the most significantly affected states from lost employment stretch across the Midwest in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, including some of the poorest congressional districts in the country. Moreover, poor people would suffer greatly because they pay a significantly higher percentage of their monthly income for electricity.

It would seem such information would add a significant element to the debate over the EPA plan, but I was able to find only a handful of media outlets that reported on the study. That may have happened because journalists consider the foundation a conservative outlet. Reporters tend to go to environmental groups for comment rather than other entities like the Heritage Foundation, which provide an alternative point of view.

I hope more members of the media turn their attention to the critical issues rather than the sexy ones, particularly at an agency that has failed to manage its own affairs properly, but wants to inflict its will on businesses and consumers throughout the country.

Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and "20/20." He can be contacted at charper@washingtontimes.com. Twitter: @charper51.