The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect public health and the environment. Yet the agency has not done much protection of the environment, public health or the public interest in many, many years. The President-elect's pick for the agency is going to have to turn around an environmental crisis that mirrors the financial one. While Obama's rumored cabinet picks are largely people who cut their teeth in the Clinton administration, or showed rare bipartisanship over the past eight years, one place a centrist will not do is the Environmental Protection Agency.
There are some good environmental laws on the books; the problem is enforcement. The Bush administration has encouraged the worst industrial practices by, for example, refusing to regulate mercury from power plants or allowing mountaintop removal mining—and the incrementalists who ran EPA during the Clinton administration bear at least some responsibility. They should not be invited back.
The new EPA leadership is going to have to do two things.
The first is to throw the moneychangers out of the temple, literally: Replace Bush's corporate goons with public servants who will put science first, and rebuild the agency's enforcement capability and take on corporate interests who, not unlike the financial industry, have operated in an anything-goes world. The second, and perhaps more important role, will be to rebuild confidence in the agency and in the federal government's commitment to protect our citizens and our environment.