I was given the privilege of talking with Judith Enck, EPA Region 2 Administrator for our stakeholder interviews. The dialogue back and forth was really pleasant and flowed well, and it was nice to “hear it from the horse’s mouth” in terms of how the EPA goes about their business, its plusses and minuses, and how it is trying to improve. Overall it gave me a good feeling that the Region 2 office of the EPA is being run well – her resume also helps, mentioning that she’s had a lot of experience in dealing with environmental issues at the state and federal level and she has worked in a “governmental watchdog group,” which sounded like a really interesting role for someone who then transitioned to positions of authority in the government. I asked her about this, how those interests coincide, and in doing so I was looking for her to say something like, “I am working for the government but really I’m infiltrating it because now that I’m on this inside I know what it really does wrong and can fix it from the inside.” Instead she just offhandedly mentioned that she was approaching the same problems but from different angles, with different freedoms and powers. Working for the government can give one access to a lot of information and power but is also limiting in terms of what you can do or say. On the other hand, working for a “scrappy little non-profit with no money,” as she puts it, gives one the freedom to do and say lots of things that government employees cannot but makes it harder to access information or make large scale changes. In any event, this government official came off to me as legitimate, hardworking and devoted to honestly solving the environmental issues we face.
However, I seem to be a skeptic of all government officials now due to what we’ve experienced in this class in terms of unethical conduct with regards to public health. I guess I’ve been so bogged down by the wrongs that have been committed that I have either failed to notice or forgotten if we’ve seen a whole lot of ethically sound decisions by government officials presiding over environmental and public health issues. Can we assume that all instances of government oversight of these issues are conducted properly unless there has been widespread publicity on misconduct? That 50% of these instances are? How skeptical should we be, and how much blame must rest on their shoulders for these mishaps? Is there a system we can develop to help check on our governmental officials that will involve professional scientists and engineers to aid the activists? Is there such a thing as an activist engineer that’s not a whistleblower who can be funded and protected? That’d be an interesting job…. I suppose that’s the engineer in me, trying to find solutions to these problems.
An interesting point that Mrs. Enck made was about citizen science and environmental justice. I won’t go a whole lot into these because I’ll save that for the Town Meeting in a few weeks, but her ideas for these programs are encouraging because it shows that someone in authority in a federal organization can think outside the box and be open to new ideas and ways for addressing environmental and public health problems. If more of our government officials can buck the status quo and implement new ideas, perhaps that is a good sign that our government is working to really address these problems.