Random Scribbles: Government in the news

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

One reason why there is this distrust of government you hear so much about these days may be the way the media reports on the government. They tend to make it sound like it is this dark and mysterious place where ominous things threaten the lives of average citizens.

Case in point is this article in the Los Angeles Times about the current activity regarding the Keystone XL pipeline. Here is the lede:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday criticized the State Department’s environmental impact review of the Keystone XL pipeline, saying there was not enough evidence to back up key conclusions on gas emissions, safety and alternative routes.

Stop right there.

First off, the State Department did not prepare the environmental impact statement (not review – call it what it is). If you read the department’s web page on the project, you will see that they farmed out the EIS to Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a multinational environmental “consulting” firm. This is not unusual.

In fact, most if not all environmental impact statements and other evaluations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are done by private organizations and not the government at all. In addition, there is an entire class of professional that calls itself a “NEPA practitioner.” We are talking tens of thousands of nongovernment jobs.

Okay, so let’s get back the the newspaper. The corrected lede should read like this:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday criticized the  environmental impact statement of the Keystone XL pipeline prepared by Environmental Resources Management, a private organization with over 140 offices in 39 countries and territories employing more than 5,000 people. EPA says that this company who was paid to do the work provided not enough evidence to back up key conclusions on gas emissions, safety and alternative routes.

Okay, so that’s a little much for a newspaper lede.

But here’s the thing: the Times makes it sound like there are these bureaucrats grinding away day after day trying to kill jobs, destroy industry, and make lives miserable. That is just not the case.

NEPA practitioners are most often paid employees of for-profit companies.  They are industry.

They just happen to be making money off the government.

[Note 1: I use the common journalism spelling of “lede” so write me a note if you think it’s an error and I’ll explain.]

[Note 2: I put “consulting” in quotes because they do more than consult; they actually do the work. That goes beyond consulting, in my opinion, and yet that is what these types of firms call themselves.]


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