State Hate #1: "Secret Science Reform Act" vs. EPA

"Secret Science Reform Act": When Any "State-Hate" Reform Will Do?
I've been writing about my headaches with Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.  All nice people.  I wish they knew the 30 people at GPR were nice people.  It would be nice if they would have visited Good Point Recycling during the past 36 months.   That may have made it easier for them to explain why a Vermont company with a lower bid, 30 employees, R2-certified, no landfilling of CRT glass, and $488,000 less expensive, warranted a change in procurement.
For the record, while the state's selection of Casella is something we object to, competition is not.  We simply want to run an Independent Opt-Out plan, so that if Vermont districts and entities WANT to use Good Point, they can. 
However, Cathy Jamieson and her 2 staff are tilting the playing field AFTER they chose Casella Waste Systems, to make sure the horse (CWST) they bet on wins.  Whether or not the bidder selection was proper, the state is cheating against the Manufacturer Independent Plan.
Among citizens and recycling clients, there's a lot of fatigue with the story.  "I'm e-wasted out", a client told me. Vermonters tend to be strong and well educated environmentalists.  VPIRG is well funded.  The "Green Mountain State" is a Green mountain state.  Most people will attribute an angry regulated business owner to some kind of Republican Fox News related profit-motivated decision to expose the environment to risk.You know, risk perception.  Here's a link:   

In social interactions, the perception of how risky our decisions are depends on how we anticipate other people's behaviors. We used electroencephalography to study the neurobiology of perception of social risk, in subjects playing the role of proposers in an iterated ultimatum game in pairs. Based on statistical modeling, we used the previous behaviors of both players to separate high-risk [HR] offers from low-risk [LR] offers. The HR offers present higher rejection probability and higher entropy (variability of possible outcome) than the LR offers. Rejections of LR offers elicited both a stronger mediofrontal negativity and a higher prefrontal theta activity than rejections of HR offers. Moreover, prior to feedback, HR offers generated a drop in alpha activity in an extended network. Interestingly, trial-by-trial variation in alpha activity in the medial prefrontal, posterior temporal, and inferior pariental cortex was specifically modulated by risk and, together with theta activity in the prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex, predicted the proposer's subsequent behavior. Our results provide evidence that alpha and theta oscillations are sensitive to social risk and underlie a fine-tuning regulation of social decisions.
(Wow, how's that for a dollup of obfuscation?  If you can't follow it, however, you cannot understand or defuse "state hate")

Risk is a statistic, a perception, something to be weighed in scientific method.  It's also deeply rooted in our hippocampus, mitigated by the reasoning in the cerebral cortex.  How regulators (who tend to be risk averse) interact with entrepreneurs (with the opposite tendencies, relatively speaking) offers a case study for how democracy is breaking down,how libertarians and social conservatives and liberals are getting whipped around in circles.  Here is a national news story (Fox News) on a law proposed by GOP
Republican lawmakers in the House are pushing legislation that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing new regulations based on science that is not transparent or not reproducible.  The Secret Science Reform Act, introduced Thursday by Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., would bar the agency from proposing or finalizing rules without first disclosing all "scientific and technical information" relied on to support its proposed action.
Reaction by environmentalists is cynical and, well, reactionary.  And for most peoples involvement in Environmental Policy, the "conservatives vs. environmentalists" duality creates two neat boxes to put controversy into.   And between Vermont ANR and a "regulated recycling company", the default box is to have a strong environmental agency... even if in this case, it's an Agency which has taken over the BUSINESS of scrap recycling.   Essentially, E-Cycles Vermont took all our clients and awarded them to a trash hauling company, against the clients wishes, and didn't follow rules in doing it.  A judge gave them an opportunity to stall and revisit the decision, but they used statute to move the injunction to an environmental court docket clogged with other appeals of other ANR decisions.

Refusing to let a successful appeal to your decision stand passes as "strength" to many who want a "strong environmental agency", and many are willing to accept a whollup of incompetence out of faith in our gut that the Environment is at Risk.  Children on piles of scrap, polar bears, tigers and whales and dodo birds need staunch defenders.   Greenpeace may be an asshole, but they are OUR asshole.  I donated to Greenpeace for many years on that basis, but when they beat up on African internet cafe investors and TV repairmen, this blog emerged as a kind of family intervention.
What about the "Secret Science Reform Act"?  Is that the kind of curb we need on these agencies?
I agree with critics of the "Secret Science Reform Act".   Simply restricting EPA's regulation is an "end of pipe" solution to the problems at EPA (restricting the power to restrict). But environmental officials who don't do their jobs well are partly responsible for the backlash.

While I think the environment is the most important legacy our generation will leave (or not leave), there are many problems at EPA. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was written by Nixon appointees, and passed in 1976.   The code needs to be updated.

A pile of lead silicate in the sunshine at a mining site is governed by 1872 laws and the cleanup paid by Superfund. Try collecting a stack of leaded silicate at a recycling operation. Outdated EPA codes discourage innovation or investment. In 1960 the USA had 7 secondary (recycling) copper smelters, by 2001 there were 0, because EPA enforcement of "waste" (scrap raw material, defined as "waste") is stronger than enforcement of "extraction" (mined raw material, defined as a "commodity") codes. The codes on EPA books were influenced by property value, making resources extracted from populace more difficult. 14/15 of the largest Superfund sites are at hard rock mining sites EPA can't figure out how to regulate... so they double down regulating recyclers, in a perverse "pecking order" show of strength. Visit this EPA Calculator to see EPA's attempt to put their Codes into legal interpretation, and run virgin leaded ore through it (follow "specific exclusions" path for mined ore, defined under "commodity" exclusion) []
I really liked my colleagues (state env regulatory agency) and hate to sound like a jerk. But that social group-think, and "reverence of the environment", doesn't belong in scientific method, and is part of the problem. There is kind of pseudo-religious hostility towards rewriting environmental regulations, which become ossified and subject to work-arounds. Too many environmental regulators seem spoiled by the knee-jerk support of environmentalists, who fetishize the environmental codes, opposing rewrites and sunsetting of old EPA rules (again, out of justifiable but cynical suspicion the RCRA and CERCLA laws won't be replaced by new ones). Resistance to identified problems with EPA testing methods (like TCLP tests applied to vitrified solids, hah!) feeds the backlash at the GOP over continued use of the old code. How many of the comments here simply dismiss the idea in the article because it comes from the GOP? And how often are Democrats willing to sunset an old code before implementing a new one? It's a vicious intractable political cycle.
All I can think of is to put (US Geological Survey) or NASA in charge of EPA, as the problems at EPA are entrenched officials who don't know how to steer their ocean liner to catch the sunset. RCRA and CERCLA are broken, EPA officials know it, but they are too afraid that if they are removed they won't be able to get replacement law enacted, and won't be able to hire the type of people that would write good regulations out of the new laws. Or if it's a coding problem, maybe a software engineer can fix it.

So yeah, I can relate to "state hate".   And I can relate to fellow environmentalists, who fear that society isn't able to properly weigh risks to the environment which will affect generations unborn, inflicting extinction and lack of genetic diversity and new toxics.   But the Agency of Natural Resources is using a club, beating my business like a baby seal, and if they don't cut it out, it's not going to be pretty.

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