An Introduction

Waquoit Bay, Cape Cod
Waquoit Bay, Cape Cod

Well, you’ve heard from several of my compatriots here at Conservefewell.  I thought it time I introduced myself.  You can find basic information under the Home tab and probably too much here.  All you really need to know is that I arrived in Washington as one of those bright (perhaps) young things fresh off a graduate degree when Jimmy Carter was President. Not long after, I remember watching the hostages come home from Tehran on the south lawn of the White House.  Next thing you know it’s the second decade of the 21st century and more than a few years of environmental policy and politics have flown by.

Each of this blog’s authors has substantial experience in the environmental and natural resources fields.  We do, however differ in a variety ways.  We have learned different life lessons, our personal and professional interests are varied, and we bring somewhat different approaches to public expression.  Our respective posts will, as a result, differ in both substance and style. Some will be carefully structured as befits an engineer, others more eloquent and erudite, and still others will be thoughtful and even-handed seeking to avoid controversy.

There’s a reasonable likelihood my posts will not be any of the above. I will try to be nice, thoughtful, and even-handed.  Nonetheless, you can expect a tad more human and partisan politics, evidence of a cynical and sometimes less tolerant attitude despite an inherent libertarian-like sense of live and let live, flights of fancy some would call uninformed and naively simplistic, arcane topics of interest to very few, and a more narrow focus on the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Blog posts will likely cover my perennially favorite topics including:

– performance-based programs such as EPA’s now “halted” Performance Track Program;
real transparency and open government;
– performance measurement;
– management challenges at EPA such as its black box budgeting process;
– we must have learned something since 1972 – should EPA’s organizational structure and underlying statutes remain essentially unchanged for its 2nd forty years;
– environmental information and data quality;
– politics, politics, and more politics;
– EPA’s regulatory, enforcement, research, and budget priority setting (or lack thereof);
– electronic rulemaking and the relatively minor progress made since 2009;
– mundane aspects of the rulemaking process such as why don’t we have professional certification requirements for regulatory work group chairs;
– information technology including new media and the interwebs;
– who really controls EPA or ‘management by consent agreements’;
– the relationship of local, state, and federal programs; and
– all things China and its environment.

You get the picture.

Two threads roughly underlie this somewhat eclectic list:  1) process matters and  2) changing the playing field.

The first suggests the importance of understanding details. Good architects recognize the success of their endeavor requires a solid understanding of specific building materials, complex engineering calculations, design choices, construction techniques, and the like. In essence, they must understand the details of their profession; production processes are closely related to the nature of the outcome. If, for example, you understand the details of an agency’s rulemaking process and its pressure points, you can affect the results. You’re also better able to identify relatively minor improvements that, in aggregate, can significantly change what you get.  If you detect a bit of W. Edwards Deming, you’re correct.

The second suggests the importance of standing back from the details of the everyday and looking at the greater world around us.  The same good architect must also be able to look at empty space and imagine what could be.  Great architects lead others to share and achieve that vision. In my world, this translates into understanding the playing field upon which the tactical battles of public policy are fought and imagining what it could and should be.

Many knowledgeable and esteemed parts of the center-right of our Nation’s Capital are comfortable with the status quo of winning and losing tactical battles.  Perhaps they find the status quo profitable.  Perhaps from deep cynicism born of battle scars they view change as wishful thinking.  Perhaps they’re too busy keeping their heads above water and lack the resources from clients and sponsors.  Regardless, few put the energy, creativity, and funding into evolving the playing field. It is, however, the bread and butter for many on the political left (witness ObamaCare).  As an aside, I note that Tea Partiers (not unlike private property rights environmentalists, for example) are clearly unhappy with this status quo, but seem to lack the temperament, experience, patience, and political skills necessary to be successful change agents.   I’ll also note that what initially appear to be relatively minor ideas can lead to major, irreversible shifts in the playing field.  Former EPA Administrator Carol Browner’s focus on children comes to mind.

If something on this list interest you, please comment below and tell me what and why.  I’ll try to address your comment in a future post.  If there’s a topic not on the list, but you think it fits in one of my two threads, also note it below.  Finally, which entry interests you the most?  What should I write about first?