- - Thursday, September 18, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Once upon a time, lobbyists were told they would have no place in the Obama administration. Transparency would put an end to business as usual in Washington. Alas, there’s no happy ending to this fairy tale. Lobbyists call the shots in this administration.

Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, including Rep. Darrell E. Issa of California, the panel’s chairman, have joined Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana in ordering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hand over documents and emails regarding the cozy association between the agency and the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It appears that [the resources council]’s unprecedented access to high-level EPA officials,” the legislators wrote, “allowed it to influence EPA policy decisions and achieve its own private agenda. Such collusive activities provide the [council], and their financial backers, with an inappropriate opportunity to wield the broad powers of the executive branch. “

The Energy & Environment Legal Institute, in a report of its investigation, provides a clear trail of emails revealing the revolving door between senior EPA officials and radical environmentalists.

In one batch of messages, Sierra Club lobbyists delivered biased research that eager EPA officials snapped up as justification to shut down coal plants. To avoid scrutiny and evade the agency’s visitors log, outside activists and government employees met across the street from EPA headquarters at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. Over coffee, they plotted what they wanted to do, how to do it, and decided the best locations for EPA hearings.

Government officials reciprocated with advance notice of regulatory actions that gave the groups a head start on organizing the appearance of grass-roots support. Sierra Club employees were even allowed to distribute T-shirts at EPA headquarters.

More than a year of wrangling and court battles were required to obtain the emails that describe how the EPA does its shady business. Lisa P. Jackson, the former administrator of the EPA, concealed her participation behind the email pseudonym “Richard Windsor.” That kept public information requests from finding, for example, an email congratulating Al Armendariz, a regional EPA administrator, on his new job. “I just got a call from the Sierra Club,” the email to Mrs. Jackson said. “Al has accepted a job with the Sierra Club, and will run their anti-coal campaign in the Texas region.”

This is a highly orchestrated effort, not the schemes of naive students shuffling across the college commons in dirty jeans and tattered sandals, who think the planetary thermostat will be adjusted if only Americans trade their dishwashers for rags, and vacuum cleaners for brooms and dust pans. Mr. Vitter says the orders come from the “billionaire’s club” of left-wing foundations that pull the strings of environmentalist groups that influence Washington.

Outsiders can only guess what the billionaires are up to, but classic rent-seeking would be the most obvious guess. Opposing things such as the Keystone XL Pipeline opens the way for them to advance their own competing projects. Perhaps they’re like Al Gore, who has used environmental activism to achieve fabulous wealth without having to actually present a useful project.

Mr. Gore got a happy ending to his own fairy tale, but his dream is a nightmare for the rest of us, paying bigger bills for gas and electricity.


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