With Gold King Mine Spill, U.S. Right Mimics the Left

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There we go again. I had just seen coverage of the EPA's Gold King Mine spill, famous for turning Colorado's Animas River yellow. Once again, a big government agency blunders, revealing incompetence, hypocrisy, and an apparent cover-up. Sadly, whatever arguments there may be against the government in this case, it's the conservative movement I'm speaking about. To reverse Rahm Emmanuel's saying to good use, conservatives are, once again, letting a serious crisis go to waste: They are failing to offer constructive criticism, making themselves look bad and, worse, missing a golden opportunity to present pro-liberty policy alternatives to the public.

Conservative criticism has been so shallow and grasping that even Media Matters can smell the "faux outrage." For example, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial with a headline mocking the EPA as "Mine Busters." Victor Davis Hanson, although he makes some interesting observations about the lack of accountability in our huge government bureaucracies, likens "big" government to the Terminator. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) stated, "It is concerning that the agency charged with ensuring that the nation's waters are clean is reportedly responsible for the toxic water spill at Gold King Mine." I am no fan of the EPA, but such a statement, so soon after the fact, was ridiculous. Accidents happen, and these complaints are like so many others leveled by conservatives about the "incompetence" or "big size" or "inefficiency" of government programs. When SEC workers were caught surfing for porn, the main complaint from the right was about the loss of work time for a job which is outside the proper scope of government, anyway. The EPA's regulatory reach criminalizes ordinary behavior and threatens our prosperity: Doesn't that merit attention?

The only thing worse than letting the rights-trampling EPA get off Scott-free is granting it the moral high ground. Unfortunately, this is what conservatives are doing now, and have for some time. Take the Washington Times calling Obama a hypocrite for not going after the EPA as quickly and viciously as he did BP after Deepwater Horizon. This may be true, but it also bears mentioning that there are right (e.g., criminal negligence) and wrong (e.g., extorting loot) reasons and ways to "go after" a business involved in an accident -- and that with BP Obama was plainly wrong about both. And speaking of BP, Karl Rove practically endorsed the idea that protecting "fragile wetlands" is a proper function of the government when he called the mess "Obama's Katrina." Either one regards environmental cleanup as a legitimate function of government or one does not, and this spill is their chance to say so. Opponents of the EPA should offer qualified support for an expeditious cleanup and promise a similar cleanup of our political landscape. Here's what's hypocritical: carping about the EPA without mentioning an alternative.

The EPA is a huge, entrenched bureaucracy that we won't get rid of overnight, or without persuading enough people that it is a misuse of government. The EPA runs on loot, violates property rights, and exercises illegitimate authority over private individuals for starters. But did you know that nuisance law had effectively protected property rights such as water quality until it was supplanted by environmental regulations? Or that the EPA can fine companies for pollution violations without proving harm to individuals? Or that it is ridiculously easy to hide rent-seeking within regulations that the EPA knows probably do more harm than good. Or that the EPA adds hundreds of billions to our nation's $2 trillion annual regulatory burden? The EPA has a rap sheet a mile long, and all conservatives can do is complain that it isn't efficient enough? Ironically some environmentalists, such as those at the Property and Environment Research Center, seem to care more about property rights than most conservatives.

The Gold King Mine spill exemplifies how our nation has failed to protect property rights, over the past half-century, and yet conservatives are basically carrying water for the EPA. How fitting that the Animas was for a brief time the same color as the people who should have offered real opposition to a half-century of bureaucratic tyranny.


Gus Van Horn frequently writes for Pajamas Media and Capitalism Magazine, plus he has his own eponmyous blog

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