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October 2007

October 31, 2007

EPA's Haunted House

aerial photo of Waterside Mall located in southwest DCVampires get a wooden stake through the heart, werewolves need a silver bullet, but how do you kill ghosts? Well, you might take a wrecking ball to their house.

From 1972 to 1999 the principal headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency was located in a sprawling set of offices surrounding Waterside Mall in Washington DC (see aerial shot). In the early 1970s, Vice President Spiro Agnew helped broker a deal that put the agency in the converted set of apartment buildings and it quickly became an indelible part of our history.

photo of Spiro T. Agnew's ghost standing outside of Waterside Mall Not a loveable part. The building was never attractive. A guard was killed by a drug dealer. The building apparently made some people sick. But, just by the accumulation of time, Waterside Mall collected memories that evoke nostalgia among some: retirement lunches at Jenny's, file cabinets in shower stalls, the tread worn Safeway, the tiny “penthouse” elevator on the twelfth floor. And while it has fallen into disuse, some say the place still has lots of ghosts.

If there are ghosts, they'll be losing their home soon. Tomorrow, November 1, at 4 pm, 300 people will gather at Waterside Mall for a ‘Demolition Party' to kickoff the end of the Mall as we knew it. After that, some of those ghosts will only live on in memory.

October 30, 2007

Guest Blog: Alex Beehler

To the tune of $ 4 billion a year, the US Department of Defense runs the largest far-flung environmental and safety compliance operation in the world. I asked Alex Beehler, who heads this up, to offer his thoughts today.

photo of Alex Beehler, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Marcus, thank you for the opportunity to be a guest blogger.

What entity which formerly used the greatest amount of ozone depleting substances (ODS), has reduced its use by 97%? The answer – the U.S. Department of Defense.

Last month, I had the pleasure of accepting an award on behalf of the Department of Defense (DoD) from EPA during the 20th Anniversary Montreal Protocol Meeting. DoD received more of these Best-of-the-Best Stratospheric Ozone Protection Awards than any other organization in the world. This is another example of the military helping to protect the environment while responding to a constantly changing national security terrain. More than that, the Montreal Protocol and the cooperation between DoD and EPA for ozone layer protection can serve as a model for dealing with many future environmental challenges, including climate protection.

Much of DoD's and the world's success in eliminating ODS can be traced to the structure of the Montreal Protocol itself. As pointed out by former Secretary of State George Shultz in a recent editorial, the Protocol worked because reductions in ODS were aggressive but economically realistic. They were undertaken without severe economic damage (and without severe impacts to military readiness), in part because the phased implementation and global inclusiveness of the Protocol created demand that triggered the development of replacements by private industry. An unintended added benefit was that these replacements also save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, recent studies estimate that the Montreal Protocol has done more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the Kyoto Protocol.

Partnerships were another critical factor in our success. The costs and engineering challenges associated with ODS elimination have been significant for the DoD – and the world. But by working together, we accomplished our goals more rapidly and at a lower cost than anyone would have ever believed. EPA and DoD worked side by side to ensure that private industry suppliers provided ozone-friendly technologies, and to develop and test alternatives when industry couldn't develop a solution. In addition, we partnered with other governments and militaries to share solutions.

These awards reaffirmed the immense pride I have in our military and my firm belief that working together we can find solutions to difficult environmental challenges while maintaining our military mission. I look forward to the continued environmental successes that DoD and EPA can help produce together.

Alex A. Beehler
Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense
(Environment, Safety & Occupational Health)

October 26, 2007

Anything I Can Do, I Can Do Better

“The toughest thing about success is that you've got to keep on being a success. Talent is only a starting point in this business. You've got to keep on working that talent.”
-- Irving Berlin

Every year at this time EPA's approximately 260 career senior managers receive one of five possible performance ratings, from “Unsatisfactory” at the low end to “Outstanding” at the high end. However, before the ratings go out, I review them. I have to decide if the agency, or a particular office, is grading too ‘hard' or too ‘easy.' Yuck.

You try it. The “Outstanding” rating is “reserved for the truly exemplary employee,” someone who is “extraordinary.” Now, what percentage of EPA managers do you think should receive an “Outstanding”?

In 2004, 60 percent of EPA's managers were rated “Outstanding” (PDF) (9 pp, 245K, About PDF). In 2005 we went through a difficult process of changing expectations. As a result, 30 percent of our managers were rated “Outstanding” in 2005 (see graph).

graph of Percent of career managers rated at the highest level, in 2002: all Govt, 85%, EPA 70%; declining to 2004: both all Govt and EPA, 60 %; 2006: all Govt, 43%, EPA 44%.This change has not been popular. Lower ratings reduce salary increases for some and can make it harder to get a bonus. Also, there seems to be an inconsistency: over the years EPA tends to ‘grade' harder than most other federal agencies, yet I think our managers are better than the managers at other agencies. What gives?

The concerns about lower ratings are real and they influence my review of the preliminary ratings. On the other hand, I believe if we allow our ratings to ‘creep up' it will send EPA down the path of mediocrity, not greatness. What is good enough for the average federal agency, at least right now, is not good enough for us. Elite organizations become elite because they expect their employees to improve every year. In such an organization, it is very hard for an employee who does the same thing they did last year – even if they were “Outstanding” last year – to get an “Outstanding” this year. They need to bring something new to the game. They need to compose another hit song.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) share the distinction of being the toughest ‘graders' in the federal government. Last year fewer than 10 percent of their managers received the highest possible rating (PDF) (9 pp, 245K, About PDF). That happened even though these organizations have excellent managers.

They also have something else in common. In 2006, based on a government-wide survey, both the NRC and OMB were rated among the top ten agencies in all of government.

Kawinkydink, Mr. Jolly? Maybe, like Annie Oakley, they are just straight shooters.

October 25, 2007

Performance on Capitol Hill

When I was a staffer on Capitol Hill I used to meet with federal agencies to convince them to adopt clear performance measures. At one such meeting an official said, “We'll adopt clear performance standards as soon as Congress does.” I responded, “Congress already has a clear performance standard, it's called ‘re-election.'”

But that doesn't mean Congress pays attention to the government's performance as much as it could. Take, for instance, EPA's 2008 budget. The Senate and House of Representatives are headed to providing $574 million and $887 million more, respectively, than the President's request for $7.2 billion. That's a lot of unrequested money. Nonetheless, both the Senate and House cut funding for Regional Geographic Initiatives (RGI) by approximately $5 million or 50 percent.

What is RGI? This is funding used by EPA's Regional offices for ‘special projects.' That sounds fishy, but I'm a believer in RGI. In the two years I've been at EPA, when I have found a program that seems to get great results for not much money and I ask how it is funded, the answer is often “RGI.”

RGI is successful for three reasons. First, it is tailored to address the worst problems in particular areas. Second, it can fund innovative solutions. Finally, a small amount of RGI funds go a long way because they provide a ‘seal of approval' that convinces others to contribute a lot more money.

Not convinced? Here are a few examples of RGI projects:

  • Washington DC has a lead poisoning problem. RGI provided $100,324 to train over 1200 DC caregivers to prevent lead poisoning in children. The project also tested 172 high-risk kids and two of the kids had elevated levels of lead. This program is being copied in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

  • Milwaukee is fighting a stormwater pollution problem. RGI gave $100,000 to convert a large paved school playground to a rain garden and outdoor laboratory. The project reduces runoff and educates kids. Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

  • Most Montanans get their drinking water from wells. They also use a lot of septic tanks that can contaminate those wells. $15,000 from RGI produced educational materials, which are now being used in seven counties, to show people how to protect their well water.

  • Even without the recent fires, California's got air pollution problems. RGI provided $100,000 in incentives for ships docked in San Francisco to burn cleaner fuels. So far 41 ships have participated resulting in a reduction of over 26 tons of air pollution.

  • The state of Washington and Canada are trying to get a handle on how to restore Puget Sound and the Georgia Basin. $45,000 from RGI has gone toward the development of a system to track human health and environmental conditions.

The more Congress links budgets to performance, the better all of us will be able to serve the voters – and those who don't vote.

October 23, 2007

Guest Blog: Oceans and Rivers . . . and Poetry

My good friend, Ben Grumbles, runs the Office of Water at EPA.

Thanks, Marcus, for letting me pinch hit for your blog. I'm honored by the chance to stick my foot (and mouth) into your "Flow of the River." And the timing couldn't be better. October is all about rivers and oceans (as well as baseball). Last week, America celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. And today is the 35th birthday of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (a.k.a. the Ocean Dumping Act) which has protected our country's coasts and oceans by banning the dumping of industrial waste and municipal sewage and restricting the disposal of dredged material.

Ocean stewardship comes in all shapes and sizes, connecting citizens and civil servants, science and ships, to protect beaches, bays, and the deep blue. Last month, the President urged the Senate to ratify the London Protocol, an important new treaty that will protect the world's oceans from dumping. Coastal America, an enduring partnership of Federal agencies, advances ocean literacy and environmental awareness at Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers. Citizens like Jerry Enzler of the National Mississippi River Museum and AquariumLink to EPA's External Link Disclaimer in Dubuque, Iowa, are helping students, K through Gray, see the ecological and cultural linkage between inland rivers and their distant bays and coasts.

Photo of OSV Bold, EPA's research ship.EPA's Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds has not only one of the coolest acronyms in government (OWOW) but also the 224 foot Ocean Survey Vessel, the Bold (see picture). This floating laboratory is one of EPA's greatest assets for coastal pollution prevention, environmental enforcement, marine monitoring, and public education.

Two poems in honor of the Ocean Dumping Act's 35th Birthday:

Ocean

Ocean
blue, gray and green
gallops up to the shore
like a friendly puppy
licking your toes

Joanna, 11 (winner in annual River of Words Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer contest, 2001)

Where Many Rivers Meet

And the mouths of the rivers
sing into the Sea,
the stories buried in the mountains
give out into the sea,
And the sea remembers
And sings back
From the depths
Where nothing is forgotten.

David Whyte (A former marine biologist, now poet living in the Pacific Northwest)

Let's not forget the progress we've made protecting and restoring America's rivers and oceans, from ridges to reefs and white water to blue water, and the need to do more.

Go Rockies! Go Mariners!

October 22, 2007

Tommy's

I smell a Tommy's double cheeseburger. Tommy's is where my college friends and I would go after our last semester final. Every good university has such a spot, ours just happened to be a shack on a corner (see photo).

photo of Tommy's on a street corner

Why do I crave a Tommy burger? Because, in terms of workload, I feel like we're heading into finals here at EPA. In fact, if you hear a humming noise over the next several weeks, it may be Steve Johnson's brain. Mr. Johnson is the Administrator of EPA and he is going to make a few big decisions before the end of the year. He is going to have to propose answers to the following questions:

  • Do greenhouse gases ‘cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare'?

  • If answer to the first question is ‘yes', what limits on greenhouse gas emissions should be placed on cars and trucks sold in the United States?

  • California has requested that it set its own limit on greenhouse gases coming from cars and trucks. Should California be allowed to have its own standard?

These aren't, by any means, the only important questions being answered at EPA. They aren't even the only important activities going on regarding climate change. Yet, as a set, the answers to these questions have large ramifications and are of intense interest. This summer the Administrator received over 100,000 public comments on the third question alone.

From a Chief Operating Officer's perspective, these policy decisions constitute a large ‘hump' of work that needs to be actively managed. We need to make sure the Administrator gets the scientific, engineering, legal, economic, and policy information he needs. We need to tap expertise in other agencies. After the Administrator makes a decision, we need to make sure the staff has the time and resources to write it up. And we need to stay on schedule.

Some people cram for finals. They do all the work at the last minute. That isn't happening here. Anyone familiar with the Administrator's work habits over his 26 years at EPA knows that is not how he operates. Nonetheless, there will be a heavy push over the next eight to ten weeks. After that . . . I'll have to figure out how to get the Administrator, and about 500 staffers, to Tommy's.

October 18, 2007

The Friz

Today I got to fill in as a substitute for the EPA Administrator. Which means, today I got to meet Ms. Frizzle! Ms. Frizzle is star of the PBS animated series and Scholastic book collection The Magic School Bus. She is also a weirdly good science teacher. I've always wanted to meet the Friz because there is a question I've wanted to ask her.

Magic School Bus science teacher Ms. Frizzle reads to the kids EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock shares the new book with the kids
EPA staff who worked on the new Magic School Bus book On the bus, EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock teaches science
(click image to enlarge)

Of course, I wasn't alone. A team of EPA staff and many others were hosted by Mrs. Carpenter's imaginative second grade class at the Cunningham Park Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia. Best of all we got to tour the new and improved Magic School Bus.

Of course, I wasn't alone. A team of EPA staff and many others were hosted by Mrs. Carpenter's imaginative second grade class at the Cunningham Park Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia. Best of all we got to tour the new and improved Magic School Bus.

New and improved Magic School Bus? Yup, the bus now runs on a much cleaner retrofitted engine thanks to EPA's Clean School Bus USA program and the Caterpillar company. The retrofit filters pollution out of the exhaust before it goes out the tailpipe. With the bus burning cleaner fuel and using the new filter, pollution is reduced by over 90 percent. Result: the bus' magic act no longer includes a black puff of smoke.

But it gets better. This story is the subject of a new book in the Magic School Bus series, The Magic School Bus Gets Cleaned. Kids can read about how pollution can effect their lungs and ways to reduce air pollution – such as retrofitting engines -- in the new book . If you are part of a school, or library, or other organization that could use these books to educate kids about cleaner air, they can be ordered at no charge from EPA.

As for Ms. Frizzle, I asked her whether she's bothered that her students never seem to graduate. “Nope,” she said, “learning is a lifelong process.”  Good answer.

October 16, 2007

Getting Juiced About Evaluation

Today I've asked Katherine Dawes to write about program evaluation. Katherine works in the Administrator's Office and helps EPA offices figure out if their programs are getting real results.

photo of Katherine Dawes First, I want to thank Marcus for inviting me to be another guest blogger on the “River” today. Let's dive in…

Regular readers of this blog know about Marcus' passion (obsession, maybe?) about “performance measurement.” He's especially keen on measuring the outcomes and impacts of EPA programs. My work at EPA focuses on program evaluation, a very close relative of performance measurement. While measurement focuses on the “what and when,” evaluation focuses more on the “how and so what.” Examples help to explain the measurement/evaluation relationship. Here's a new favorite of mine:

 

Nectarine Juice Production Program

Performance Measurement

  • The inputs are nectarines and a hammer
  • The activity is smashing nectarines with a hammer
  • The output is how many nectarines got smashed
  • The outcome is how much juice resulted
  • The impact is the improved health of the people who drink nectarine juice

Program Evaluation

  • How well is the program producing nectarine juice using the current inputs?
  • Is a hammer really the most effective intervention for producing nectarine juice? What are the alternatives?
  • What is the nectarine juice production program's specific contribution to the improvement of national public health?

(Thanks to the EVALTALK contributors who first introduced varying versions of the above example.)

A program evaluation is a systematic study that has the purpose of learning either through assessing how well an established program is working or by methodically testing innovative program approaches. EPA has had modest success with environmental program evaluation, though not at the scope that we'd like to see. Program evaluation is a well-developed practice in the education and social services fields. These fields have been engaged in formal evaluations since the 1960s, and have largely driven the program evaluation methods employed today. To date, the environmental field has not had a strong program evaluation tradition. But this is changing. People from academia, foundations, state and local government agencies, and non-profit organizations are enthusiastically engaged in building up the practice of environmental program evaluation. Interest is international.

Fall is an exciting time for program evaluators! One of our major events occurs in early November. The American Evaluation Association Conference brings together more than 2500 practitioners and academics annually. For EPA evaluators, it's our opportunity to learn from other fields (e.g., education) that have more evaluation experience. We also get to tap into the growing network of environmental program evaluators. As with many conferences, some of the most productive networking happens over food and drinks…nectarine juice anyone?

[Some links on this post will exit EPA Link to EPA's External Link
   Disclaimer   ]

October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

If you're looking for an environmental message today, you don't need to read this blog. Today is “Blog Action DayLink to EPA's External Link
   Disclaimer on the environment. Thousands of bloggers from all over the world, regardless of what they normally write about, are uniting to write something, anything, about the environment.

Since I normally have an environmental theme, I'm tempted to be contrarian and write about something else. Sort of like the famous mime, Marcel Marceau, having the only audible line in Mel Brooks' “Silent Movie.” But I'm not Marcel Marceau and I'm certainly not Mel Brooks. So I'll only be slightly contrarian.

I suspect many bloggers today will be writing about the fragility of the environment. When looking at specifics, that can be true, but I think, in general, it works the other way round. Mother earth can kick our butt. Or, to put it more eloquently, “nature always bats last.”

So does that mean we can knock nature around and not worry about it? Well, the immorality of that approach aside, let me just suggest that the harder we kick mother nature, the harder she'll kick us back.

Have a nice day.

yellow smiley face

October 11, 2007

San Francisco

I visited EPA's regional office in San Francisco yesterday. Before diving into a solid schedule of meetings, the Deputy Regional Administrator, Laura Yoshii, asked me where else I would go in San Francisco if I had the chance. I didn't hesitate, “The Exploratorium.”

The Exploratorium is a hands-on science museum where I always learn something new. On my last visit I discovered that no matter where you are in the universe, you always appear to be at the center. That is, the planets and stars in the universe seem to be receding from where you are, no matter where you are (because the universe is expanding equally everywhere, there really is no ‘center' of the expansion).

But who needs to go to the Exploratorium when you can be visiting one of the country's best places to work? Every two years, the Partnership for Public Service and American University rank the best places to work in the federal government. This year's report rated 222 federal offices. EPA's office in San Francisco ranked third – in the top 2 percent.

So, what did I learn from my visit to the regional office? More than anything I learned about collaboration. I already knew that if we are to make environmental progress, EPA must sit down with communities and other organizations to find ways to voluntarily pursue common environmental goals. Mutual respect and partnership are the paths to innovation and creativity and the EPA folks in San Francisco know that's where the biggest environmental gains are. For example, we are making terrific progress in reducing air pollution from old diesel engines through the West Coast Collaborative Link to EPA's External Link
   Disclaimer.

But what I've taken for granted is the need for us to do more collaboration inside EPA. That requires some humility. For instance, the Region has a terrific Energy and Climate Strategy that brings different parts of the regional office together to coordinate efforts to reduce pollution and greenhouse gasses resulting from energy use. That's not easy. For this effort to work it means sub-divisions of the office must give up some flexibility and resources and work together, outside traditional organizational boxes. Yet this is precisely what the Region is doing in a number of areas.

The staff in San Francisco don't act like they are at the center of the universe, which is why the office is a center of environmental excellence.

October 09, 2007

You Asked: Posting Comments

There's a renovated warehouse in Minneapolis called Butler Square which contains shops, offices and restaurants. Off a large atrium in the center of the building there used to be a men's room with a one-way mirror. While standing at a urinal you could look into the atrium. If you were in the atrium trying to look into the bathroom, you just saw your reflection. I never got used to this bathroom. It always made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

I've had a little of the same feeling regarding the inability of folks to post comments to this blog. I keep laying posts out there, but what I get in return is constrained. It's largely a one-way communication.

Not for long. Starting in November, folks will be able to post comments directly to this blog for everyone to see. When I last addressed this issue on August 9 there were a number of concerns that had to be worked out including security and financial questions. Our talented web staff here at EPA sought out the folks at Health and Human Services who handle Secretary Leavitt's blog and the result is EPA will be using a simple and inexpensive system that has proven it can handle posts to a federal site.

Federal decisionmakers are getting better at blogging. I'm happy, for instance, to see that Secretary Chertoff at the Department of Homeland Security and Sean McCormack at the State Department have started blogs. I expect, and hope, we'll see a geometric increase in government leaders using this tool to communicate. It's time consuming and has an element of risk, but blogging is an increase in government transparency more of us should see through.

October 04, 2007

The Budget Is a Knuckleball

The start of Major League Baseball's playoffs coincides with the beginning of the federal fiscal year. In both cases one should prepare for an exciting fall.

photo of a baseball catchersmitt Unlike baseball, the federal budget process is not intentionally exciting. It just turns out that way. What is supposed to happen is by October 1 all the funds for the coming year are released to the federal government. What actually happens (for 15 of the last 18 years) is that most federal agencies start the year by getting funding through a ‘continuing resolution.' That is, we're given enough money to just keep doing what we are doing for a little while. Right now, for instance, we have enough money to get through November 16, or about two weeks after the World Series ends.

If you run an EPA program or need an EPA grant, this can make life exciting. Although, not in a good way. Managers can't count on long-term plans. Organizations that get EPA grants don't know how much money they will receive or when they will receive it. At this point no one knows what will happen after November 16. Will we get more money or less money? Will the money be moved around to different programs? Will we get money for the rest of the year or more short-term funding?

A lot of people have shared their anxiety with me. The uncertainty drives them crazy. They're like Cubs fans, they hope for the best, but expect the worst. In response I tell them about Joe Ginsberg.

Ginsberg played baseball for the Baltimore Orioles in the late 1950s. He was Hoyt Wilhelm's catcher. That was a very tough job. Wilhelm was a knuckleball pitcher which means he would throw the ball and where it would end up was anyone's guess. To deal with the unpredictability of Wilhelm's pitches, Ginsberg used a huge oversized mitt called Big Bertha (see picture) and would patiently wait until the last split second to snatch Wilhelm's pitches out of the air. The mitt provided more room for error. Waiting to catch it reduced the likelihood of making a mistake.

So whether you're involved in post-season play or late season budgets, my advice is carry a big glove and be very patient.

October 02, 2007

How Freeing Paris Saved EPA Money

EPA spends about $3 million a year on international travel. That's not a small sum and we are working on ways to keep it to a minimum. On the other hand, I've learned that relatively petite investments in international travel can pay big dividends later on. Here's an example.

We use a lot of chemicals in this country, but we don't necessarily know a lot about them. So EPA scientists have been reviewing data on hundreds of high volume chemicals to make sure we better understand the risks these chemicals pose to human health and the environment. We regularly track how many chemicals we've taken a close look at. And, voila, through June of 2007, we have assessed almost 850 high production chemicals, well ahead of our original schedule (see graph). C'est magnifique! How come we are doing so well?

Graph of the cumulative number of high production chemicals assessed since program inception in FY2005: FY06 quarter 4: 630; FY07 quarter 1: 662, FY07 quarter 2: 679; FY 07 quarter 3: 843; FY 07 quarter 4 target: 889 The answer is we went to Paris. Not to enjoy the Louvre or sip café au lait on the Champs-Elysées, but to rendezvous with scientists from other member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). EPA and OECD colleagues worked out, over a number of years, common methods for assessing the hazards from chemicals. Because of this, when the OECD assesses a chemical, EPA scientists are confident those results can be used in our own assessment here in the United States.

We freed up travel to Paris to allow these EPA/OECD tête-à-têtes. Is that an extravagant use of public funds? Au contraire, we've saved much more than we spent in taxpayer money by not having to do all the testing ourselves. But the pièce de résistance is that when the OECD produces results, we benefit because we identify potential risks to the public and the environment faster. That's why we're ahead of schedule.

Encore!

October 01, 2007

Yesterday's News

Yesterday's Washington Post carried an article indicating EPA's enforcement of environmental laws ‘has declined.' This troubled me. My regular meetings with the enforcement office have left me with the impression they are doing a really good job. Could I have the wrong impression? The answer is an interesting lesson in measurement.

The data cited in the Post focuses on two measures that have decreased:

  1. the number of criminal prosecutions (and subsequent convictions); and
  2. the number of civil suits (and subsequent dollars collected in penalties).

My management meetings with the enforcement office focus on two different measures that are increasing:

  1. the number of pounds of pollution reduced due to enforcement actions; and
  2. the number of additional dollars invested in pollution control due to enforcement actions.

I think the Post's measures are inferior to EPA's management measures for two reasons. First, EPA is measuring a change in pollution. We're measuring results, not beans. For instance, the fish in the Chattahoochee River couldn't care less about how many notches a prosecutor has on her belt. They do care how much pollution is in their water. If we can get a company or city to reduce more pollution now or spend more on reducing pollution in the future, that can be better than pursuing a case to get a conviction or a cash penalty. The cash penalties, by the way, go to the U.S. Treasury, not to cleaning up the environment.

Second, enforcement is about getting compliance. If we successfully get greater compliance, guess what happens to prosecutions, convictions, and penalties? They go down. Are decreasing convictions and penalties a good sign or a bad sign? Without compliance rates, you can't tell and nobody has good data on compliance rates. (Why doesn't anyone know what the compliance rates are? That may be a good topic for the future.)

But for now, these are the measures we have. The Post measures purport to show enforcement is ‘declining.' The EPA measures show we are doing great. Which is right? I'll let you decide. But for me, counting beans is worth about as much as yesterday's news.