This Is Governing By Caffeine Rush


It’s admittedly tiring keeping up with the nonsense coming from this administration*. Now, the president* has decided that Harley Davidson has betrayed the nation, and him personally, which is the same thing. If there’s a more American company than H-D, I don’t know what it is. It was founded and based in Milwaukee, for god’s sake. Given the choice between that company and the president* in terms of Americanism, it’s no damn contest.

But what’s really exhausting is trying to trace the mischief and vandalism that’s going on deep in the shadows of the federal bureaucracy in places like the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board. The CSB is a small independent government agency tasked with investigating industrial accidents involving chemicals. For three years, the chair of the CSB has been Vanessa Allen Sutherland, whom the previous administration had installed as troubleshooter after the EPA’s inspector general had hammered the CSB, which was in considerable disarray. Recently, Sutherland announced she was leaving the gig.

Sutherland’s departure for a job with the Norfolk Southern railroad was considered a surprise. In her first year on the job, she busied herself on the backlog of reports that had so concerned the IG. The CSB then got back in the business of opening new reports. From Chemical and Engineering News:

Sutherland’s departure is roiling an agency that was just getting back on its feet again.

Meanwhile, the administration is doing to the CSB what it’s been doing to most federal regulatory bodies: trying to eliminate them or, failing that, putting the agency’s mission statement through a funhouse mirror while ignoring the angry screams of the professionals who work there.

This is the real damage that the administration is doing. This is the real damage that it may take a decade or more to repair. The administration* has tried and failed to eliminate the CSB in its last two budgets.

The fact that this is a deliberate and obvious modus operandi can be demonstrated by looking at what’s going on with an agency with a slightly higher profile than the CSB’s: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In a recent presentation, the interim administrator of NOAA described a gobsmacking adjustment in the agency’s mission statement. The folks at the Union of Concerned Scientists were concerned enough to tell the world about it.

So, as far as NOAA is concerned under this administration, climate change and conservation are out and serving “the economy” and supporting “national security” are in. This, of course, despite the fact that those tree-huggers in the Pentagon believe the climate crisis to be a threat to national security. It’s all short-term gain for long-term pain, governing by caffeine rush. In one way or another, administrations take on all the characteristics of the presidents who lead them. Pass the president* another Diet Coke, NOAA, and empower the economy while you’re at it. The real world consequences can be gruesome.

For example, one of the backlogged CSB investigations that Sutherland spurred involved a 2014 chemical accident at a Dupont plant near Houston. Four people died when a worker opened a faulty valve, releasing a deadly chemical gas called methyl mercaptan. The worker who opened the valve died and so did the three people who ran in to save her. Death from methyl mercaptan is a grisly business. Often, people are overcome by the gas before they realize they’re exposed. Then it goes to work on the lungs and you’re in a coma and die before you realize you’ve been poisoned.

The CSB report lit up Dupont for neglecting safety precautions at the Texas plant. From The Houston Chronicle:

This is the kind of thing of which the CSB is not doing much any more. This is the kind of thing that Vanessa Sutherland got paid for getting the CSB to do again. Now she’s gone, the staff is furious and frustrated, and its mission is corrupted because there’s no way to be part of this administration* and avoid that.