I have two jobs. First, I am a substitute for the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If Steve Johnson can't be somewhere he wants to be, I step in for him. Second, I am the Chief Operating Officer of EPA. I oversee EPA's day-to-day operations. That means I help manage the most dedicated mission-driven civil servants in government. People do not work at EPA for the money. They are here because they want to protect human health and the environment. That is EPA's 'profit motive.
You may not understand how exceptional that is unless you share a passion for the environment. I have had three 'environmental epiphanies' in my life. Let me describe, as best I can, one of these revelations. I was 14. I was standing alone in the center of Skunk Lake deep in a Minnesota December holding a 6 foot orange staff. The sun was brilliant, the air crisp and still. About 200 yards away a fellow Boy Scout, looking small below the dormant oak and maple trees, slowly snowshoed along the perimeter of the lake periodically taking bearings on the marker I held.
As I waited, I contemplated the lake, the trees, the immensity of time, and my smallness in the context of that time. The lake, the trees - all of it had been there long before I had been there, long before mankind had been there. And it had looked exactly like this and was indifferent to whether I was there or not. It just was. And there were countless other lakes and trees elsewhere in Minnesota, in the U.S., in Canada . . . everywhere. I was a tiny part of a huge system - an overwhelming system - that had been ticking along for an overwhelming period of time. It was my first discovery of the miraculous: a sudden realization that humans have a relationship with Nature and that relationship is not equal. We are part of, and separate from, a world that is almost too hard for us to grasp in its complexity and scale across space and time. And a slower realization that this miracle, a miracle that surrounds us every day, places aesthetic and moral obligations on us to conserve and protect not only other people from environmental contamination but the environment itself.
This is why I love to work at EPA. It is the primary mission of EPA to see that these obligations, as assigned to us by law, are met. But are we doing our job? We need to, we are obligated to, make sure we are doing our job the best way we know how. My second job, the job of Chief Operating Officer, is to find and implement ways to do our work even better. What a wonderful thing to do for a living.