Posts Tagged ‘Bob Harris’

Is It Good News?

Friday, December 28th, 2012

[Editor’s Note:  Guest commentary is welcome on PHILLIPSBILLBOARD.  Bob Harris grew up in Charleston, WV and sent the piece below following our post about the EPA Administrator’s planned departure.  Harris is based in Washington with extensive Capitol Hill experience.  He is a principal in the firm of Nutter & Harris.]

Is it good news?  Yes and no.  While Administrator Jackson has been an aggressive leader with an aggressive environmental agenda, the Agency still must implement the laws as written and that means that the Courts will enforce the laws no matter who is the Administrator.

Much of the action taken by EPA during Ms. Jackson tenure was taken in response to decisions and orders from the courts.  Congress has shirked responsibility for decades now in reviewing and rewriting the basic environmental statues under which EPA operates — Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery (RCRA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA or Superfund) and Safe Drinking Water Act.  By and large, our national environment laws were written two or three decades ago, reflecting an economy where America competed mostly at home, not abroad, and when politics was less partisan.

The politics of pollution was more regional in nature than partisan.  Now, like all politics, the environment is seen more through the prism of partisanship and struggles between Democrats and Republicans.

No matter who is President the laws must and will be implemented.  Suits will be filed in courts throughout the country — and EPA will be forced to implement whatever the court decides.  And, the courts often will defer to EPA’s scientific knowledge and regulatory authority.

When administrations change party, what does change is the negotiation between litigant parties and the EPA.  Many “negotiated settlements” are negotiated under one administration with the environmental community or under another with the regulated community.

EPA is the “environmental protection agency,” it purpose for being — established under a Republican President and his Administration — is to protect the environment.  It is not charged with determining cost effective regulation, the least expensive path forward; it is charged with implementing the US environmental statutes.

I was once told by a good friend on the Senate Environment Committee — under John Chafee’s leadership — “Bob, this is the environment committee.”  Those of us who represent business and industry and the regulated communities need to remember that very thought.  We are dealing with people whose job is to do something different than what believe to be the best interests of our side.

If we approach the environment under those terms, respecting the legitimate role of the other side, we will have better results.  Much like everything else today, we want our side to win everything and the other side to get nothing.

I am old enough to remember Charleston (and Wheeling and Pittsburgh and more) when the Kanawha River was merely a place to dump our wastes.  The multitude of chemical plants in the greater Charleston area simply dumped whatever the waste was, in whatever color it flowed, into the river.  And, the river’s role was simply to dilute and carry products up and down the river.  Weren’t all of our rivers much the same?

The Clean Water Act set up a process to clean up our rivers and streams — to make our rivers “fishable and swimmable.”  That has been accomplished — and America is a better place today because of that.

The heavy air pollution that stagnated the Kanawha Valley when I was a child is gone today — except under the most extreme circumstances.  The Ohio River Valley and others throughout the state have a skyline of tall stacks that disperse pollutants above the valley walls — unfortunately carrying whatever pollutant being released to another state and another region.

What can be said about the Clean Water Act can be said about all of our environmental statutes.  We are better off today than we were 15, 20 or 40 years ago.  This year we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act; in 2010 we celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Air Act.  And, even as I work to help my clients shape environmental responses and advocate policy responses under these two and other statutes, I enthusiastically celebrate everything we have accomplished.

Are there still problems — sure!!  Are there better and most cost effective ways to meet these challenges — sure!!  We must roll up our sleeves and command our leaders to do what Jennings Randolph did all those years he chaired the Environment and Public Works Committee — work with others from other regions, with other divergent interests to find a middle ground and put together programs that work.

West Virginia is well positioned to play a leading role in a new debate on the environment and energy policies…especially as they come together in today’s modern economy.  It is time to have it!!

Senator Rockefeller chairs an important Senate Committee (the Commerce Committee) and is a senior member of the Finance Committee, which jurisdiction over tax policies); Senator Manchin sits on the powerful Energy & Natural Resources Committee and he will have an important voice in setting energy policies for the next 4 years of the Obama Administration.  On the House, the States senior leader, Nick Rahall is the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee which has jurisdiction over all US waters, the Clean Water Act and transportation policies.  Shelly Capito is now a Senate candidate, but she still serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where she has moved up the ladder in seniority.  David McKinley brings business experience and engineering expertise to the powerful Energy & Commerce Committee, which has broad jurisdiction over the Clean Air Act, RCRA and Superfund and the Department of Energy and energy policy.

Bob’s View

Monday, October 15th, 2012

[Editor’s Note:  After the last presidential debate I got an email from Bob Harris a longtime friend.  He provided me his views about the debate and Obama’s inability to use the tools of his position.  Bob is an astute observer of Washington, the national political scene and Congress. I thought Bob’s email observation and the Michael Gerson column he sent would be interesting reading before tomorrow’s presidential debate.  He agreed to this being published.]

Throughout Obama’s Presidency, I have complained about his inability to use the White House and his powerful position to any advantage, whether politically or diplomatically.  He just hasn’t seemed to understand and, therefore take advantage, of his own office.  It is his only for the trappings.  Very frustrating…

Obama debate performance and week following has further demonstrated his total lack of understanding of his office and how to use.  He stood side-by-side with Romney and let Romney dominate him in a debate — this after nearly 4 years of standing next to leaders from around the world. Odd and very frustrating…but not unexpected.

Romney has more positions that some jockeys have mounts during a racing season.  He can’t find one he likes and will stick to it long enough to embrace it.

I am forwarding Michael Gerson’s column from the Post today pointing out how Romney has found a new voice — a convincing voice at that.  It is the voice of “his inner centrist.”  This is very important and it must be understood for what it is by the President and the Obama team before the next debate.  If Obama does not turn this new trend toward Romney by the debate next week, he will be inside the 16th pole with blinkers on, not seeing Romney charging past him from behind.

The column is below, but I pulled out the last paragraph to highlight here:

“Anger in the Obama camp is understandable. Romney seems comfortable with his new tone — almost relieved to be back into Massachusetts mode. He is better positioned to appeal to independents in Ohio and elsewhere. And Obama is still reacting to Romney, not the other way around. Days after they parted in Denver, Romney is still dominating the debate.”

This is where the President’s lack of understand of the power of his office really comes through.  An incumbent president should never be in the position of responding…And, that is what we have seen for the past 3-plus years, why should anyone expect that to change during the campaign.

From Romney, a change in tone, not policy

By Michael Gerson, Published: October 8

Mitt Romney’s debate message has become his campaign strategy. In Denver, he was a bipartisan dealmaker, concerned about the lives of real people, especially when they inhabit battleground states. A day later, he apologized for his “47 percent” comment — which should have been done weeks before. In that same interview, he went on to talk about social mobility: “The gap between the rich and the poor has gotten larger. . . . I want the poor to get into the middle class.” His stump speech now features populist themes. Romney has discovered his inner centrist.

After considering their range of options, critics have chosen apoplexy. Democratic officials accused Romney of “outright fabricating” and “basically lying.” David Axelrod called Romney “Gantry-esque” — a charge of exceptional viciousness, hidden by literary obscurity. (Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry was an alcoholic, abusive, sacrilegious fraud.) President Obama, after recovering from the Denver altitude, set out this challenge: “If you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth.”

So is Romney being “dishonest” (Axelrod) or tacking a bit toward the middle, as presidential candidates often do? Is this readjustment fraudulent or merely later than expected?

For the most part, Romney has shifted his tone and emphasis, not his policy. All along, he has proposed tax reform, not merely tax cuts. He never opposed all federal financial regulations — though this is not the kind of thing a Republican emphasizes in the primaries. In these cases, Romney hasn’t changed his plans. He has merely refuted caricatures of his plans. You can hardly blame a man for refusing to be a straw man.

On a few issues in the debate, Romney’s transformation seemed a little too eager. Maintaining education funding seems at odds with his proposal for a 5 percent, across-the-board cut in federal discretionary spending — though it wouldn’t be that hard to make up $3.5 billion in education cuts elsewhere in a $425 billion domestic discretionary budget, if this is Romney’s intention. His health plan would not guarantee insurance coverage for people with preexisting conditions in every case. But it would heavily subsidize the purchase of health insurance and guarantee that anyone with coverage could move from insurance to insurance without facing preexisting-condition exclusions.

These claims are within the bounds of normal, unscripted imprecision during a debate. For the most part, Romney was attempting to present his moderate conservative agenda in a favorable light to independent voters. I’d prefer that agenda to be more creative, particularly in promoting equal opportunity and social mobility. But it is not deception to emphasize the most appealing portions of your proposals. It is the nature of political persuasion.

The accusation of lying shuts down all genuine policy debate. Romney promises, for example, a 20 percent, across-the-board reduction in income taxes, with lost revenue made up by economic growth and cutting loopholes and deductions for the wealthy. I suspect these sources, in the end, would not be sufficient. So you can either close some loopholes for the upper middle class or reduce the 20 percent tax cut (a prospect one of Romney’s economic advisers has raised). This is worth a debate. But such a debate is rendered impossible by the questioning of motives. This is a genuine disagreement, not attempted fraud. Romney is making an argument, not engaged in a plot. And a refusal to engage the argument indicates an inability to engage the argument seriously or successfully.

Those who urge Obama in the next debate to call Romney a liar, or close to it, are doing him no favors.  It is one thing to do this on the stump, where taunting and mocking result in applause. It is another thing to try this tactic face to face, where it nearly always seems desperate and small. Because of the manner of Obama’s failure in the first debate — by being too passive — he will need to be more aggressive in the next. But that is a difficult trait to calibrate, particularly in a president prone to public petulance. A small turn of the faucet and the cold water suddenly scalds.

Anger in the Obama camp is understandable. Romney seems comfortable with his new tone — almost relieved to be back into Massachusetts mode. He is better positioned to appeal to independents in Ohio and elsewhere. And Obama is still reacting to Romney, not the other way around. Days after they parted in Denver, Romney is still dominating the debate.