Here I share snippets of opinion and interesting viewpoints from the book.
- My father always joked, “You pull the chain, we do the rest.” As the son of a sanitary engineer who cast a big shadow, I had to define myself, what kind of a professional engineer I would become, and why. I became a P.E. of a different sort — a “political engineer.” I meant to bring that perspective to Washington, D.C. where my father was born and where three generations of Eidsness men had served honorably in the service of their country.
- Those early years of EPA were heady. We were idealistic, focused on our mission of protecting public health and the environment. The overall view of the legal requirements and direction provided by EPA’s HQ leadership, however, was simplistic and often misdirected, at best. Despite the complexity of the task, which resulted in huge transaction costs imposed on the states and regulated community; there were great results in reducing pollution loads from entering the waters of the United States during the 1970s.
- I learned after the fact that what I did not know before I returned to EPA in September 1981 would at the least blindside me about how to engage with the Congress and my critics in a debate over reforming WQS as an effective regulatory tool, but indeed resulted in mistakes of my own making. I was well equipped to propose technical changes to the means and methods EPA/states used to adopt and implement WQS, but not on firm ground regarding certain policies because of my engineering orientation and lack of public policy experience at the national level.
- To me, EPA seemed more like a social experiment for politicians and hardcore environmentalists to practice social science in a new field of public policy, rather than a regulatory agency that placed the protection of public health and the environment above all. I know my father felt the same way. As a consequence of this transformation, many in the new EPA found that although there was a personal thrill, if adrenaline rush, resulting from being at the apex of a hierarchy directing the implementation of federal laws, a cold dose of reality ensued as the power plays and “transactions” involved seemed more important than the results achieved.
- The experience of being in the center of power in a change of administrations was heady, but I didn’t lose my bearings and focused on doing a better job of managing my department. What surprised me most was the enormous backlog of responsibilities that awaited me. Also, career civil servants were tensely anticipating a new group that represented a President who was decidedly anti-big government, wanting to please the new president, but unsure what that meant. I already knew many of the Office of Water personnel. So I met the “team” and set my agenda.
- I can say with some authority that engineers view all environmental problems as ones that require a “technical solution.” Indeed, engineers are problem-solvers; our institutions of higher learning train us to do this. The engineering profession holds us to a high standard of accountability, as I mentioned before. Hence, problems have technical solutions, which should be self-evident. However, local political decisions to finance an ongoing effort under 208 rarely hinge on the “technical solution.” We have also witnessed how decisions at the federal level, even congressional decisions, are less concerned with science and technology than they are with career-building; often their decisions reflect the world as seen from a hermetically-sealed bubble.
- I am an engineer, but a political engineer, who believes the solution to our environmental problems begins, not with the technical answer, but with institutional alignment on the problem statement and an open process of decision-making. Then, the best technical solution will surface. My reforms came from grassroots planning effort backed up by superior technical analysis and innovative thinking, where we had to make sense out of the often-nonsensical State of Colorado and EPA directions we were given, and in reliance on EPA actions that did not materialize in time for us to incorporate them into our plan. We determined that the framers of the ’72 CWA gave us a framework that could effectively work to protect water quality, even in the face of ambiguity, court decisions that defied common sense, and distrust of states by our national leaders.
- Caught between “a rock and a hard place,” 208 Directors had run the gauntlet between the sometimes-idealistic demands of officials of the EPA and the State of Colorado, and the pragmatic view of local interests who wanted to understand the costs and benefits of proposed controls before committing to their implementation through public and private (industry) financing.
- My critical analysis of EPA in its first decade is something I didn’t plan to do when I set out to write this tome, but it meets with my philosophical beliefs that we have to understand the full dimension of the problem before we can devise better strategies as solutions.
- I cannot risk the temptation of editorializing Howard Baker’s quote regarding how the American economy multiplied as did automobiles since the instigation of environmental laws. Perhaps he didn’t understand that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
- My immediate supervisor, Joe Franzmathes, walked into my office and said, “I know why you didn’t accept Jack’s offer. You don’t respect Jack, do you?” I shrugged off the question because Jack was only symptomatic of a bigger problem that Joe was also part of. I do remember that I had good reasons to be disenchanted with federal service. I was only 26. I did not appreciate, until I served in a top EPA management position a decade later overseeing policy, management, and budget, the enormous challenges faced by EPA’s leadership during the 1970s and the difficult choices they had to make to roll out new environmental statutes.
- In retrospect, my experience as a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed Assistant Administrator in the EPA was my military service in Vietnam and the San Francisco Bay Area revisited, at least on an emotional level. In both instances, I was in a war zone. When it was over, I felt blamed for my service, my fealty to the Oath of Office was ignored if not respected, and I was left with a dark cloud looming over my head that had a serious impact on my ability to grain employment to support my wife and three young children and with nothing meaningful to do.
- I warned Ruckelshaus that the President needed to enunciate his policy on the enforcement of environmental statutes generally, at the least to align his own political appointees and to reassure the staff and public that he wanted enforcement. I made this bold statement in light of the comments made by President Reagan regarding his expectation of the Ruckelshaus II tour at the time of Ruckelshaus’s swearing-in in the Old Executive Office Building, which fell far short of this. There is no indication that his message was trumpeted either by the career staff, or in the media.]
- Bill’s response to all this was, ‘Don’t you worry about EPA, let me worry about that; that’s my job.’It was an insulting and patronizing remark … well, the rest is history. There remains no Reagan environmental policy. Ruckelshaus is leaving … Bill’s departure, as with his return to EPA, was a script made for Hollywood. His goal seemed to be to restore morale — I hope he succeeded, I regret I could not have been a part of the rebuilding, though I know now I did not fit in a Ruckelshaus team … Reagan has failed to show leadership altogether in the area of environmental protection, which perpetuates the lie and dangerous mentality that a safe environment and economic growth are mutually exclusive concepts. Politicization of the environment — though others contributed substantially to this outcome — is the Reagan Legacy.”