Taking responsibility

Perhaps the most overused and least significant phrase in the English language these days is “I take responsibility”.
As we speak, Gina McCarthy, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, repeatedly says her agency takes responsibility for cleaning up a monumental spill of waste mining waters in Colorado. She should. Local government officials have complained bitterly that whatever its complicity in the accident – and EPA was running the show — it took a day to alert downstream communities and then the volume of the spill was grossly underestimated.
What should happen, eventually, is that a thorough investigation should take place: what caused the spill? Was something like this predictable? What measures were in place in case there was an accident of this sort? Given their complicity, who will monitor the EPA’s cleanup? Who will pay the immediate costs of the cleanup? When a bottom line is drawn, does the EPA failure in this instance reflect – as many would argue – Ms. McCarthy’s mismanagement of the Agency and therefore time for her to go. In other words, who will take responsibility?
It has become the fashion in such misadventures for a leading government or private sector figure to announce from a podium that he or she will take responsibility. But what does that mean? Generally, it means little if anything. Often it doesn’t even mean resignation or a fine. It just means, well, I take responsibility and do a tearful mea culpa in front of the cameras and go on my way.
It should mean that the person assuming the responsibility pays a price for his malfeasance. That could be resignation from a top job or at least some monetary penalty. But these days it rarely does.
President Barack Obama is not a stranger to such statements. One cannot expect the president of the United States of America to resign his office on the numerous occasions when he has stated he is taking responsibility. But too often in the recent past, it has simply meant that Obama went on to the next disaster with little or no assurance that the reasons behind the failure of policy or strategy have been reexamined and corrected. It is part and parcel of his “evolution” toward different, often explicitly contradictory policies, in his search for “transformation” of the American society he finds so wanting.
One could hope that this disaster in Colorado would be a turning point. After all it is an environmental disaster; the kind of accident that the environmental fanatics believe is constant and brought on by malicious intent of commercial perpetrators. But, ironically, in this instance, the accident – if it can be called that – was perpetrated by the EPA which is the shrine at which all the big governmental environmentalists worship. And it was done in pursuit of what the EPA calls it special talents and technology for cleaning up old environmental debris. There really has to be a good explanation for why the agency charged with policing the environment is the perpetrator of one of the most recent dramatic violations of natural surroundings.
It comes at a critical moment when Obama has stretched his concept of what the constitution permits to an expansion of EPA jurisdiction that many believe not only runs counter to the Agency’s purview, but one which the Supreme Court has already rule indirectly against. Unfortunately, the process of again appealing its latest clean air dictates will take years to work its way through the courts, meanwhile penalizing an private sector seeking to renew healthy growth. Furthermore, it ignores the market forces unleashed by the shale drilling technology and Japan’s progress in coal-fire generator emissions.
This episode argues, too, for a new look by the Congress – which ought also to take up its responsibility – at the legal foundations of the EPA and see if they don’t need reordering legislation.


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