This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Jason Chaffetz could have had himself a wonderful Only Nixon Could Go To China moment the other day. If only anything he was saying about the failure of the federal government to prevent the tragedy in Flint, Mich., had a shred of credibility.
The Republican congressman from Utah, astride his post as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, came down hard on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in general, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in particular, during the panel's bipartisan probe into the disaster. Well, bipartisan in the sense that both parties had a chance to blame the other for everything that was wrong.
Federal law commands that states have the primary responsibility for enforcing the provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA is only to serve as a backstop and is allowed to act only after a through review and a finding that a flaw in a state's behavior is widespread.
Yet there was Chaffetz, calling for McCarthy's resignation and going on a some length about how inept and clueless the EPA is because it failed to act in violation of the law to overrule decisions by state and local agencies and stop Flint's use of river water that has been corroding the city's pipes and delivering horribly unsafe levels of toxic lead into the faucets, and bloodstreams, of Flint's children.
This is, of course, the same Jason Chaffetz who, only the week before, announced a plan to disarm the federal law enforcement agencies that currently have jurisdiction over the large chunks of Utah and other Western states.
The congressman has some reasonable concerns about a lack of coordination between the feds and local law enforcement. And he is not altogether wrong to worry that folks working for the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and other agencies are stocking up on heavy weaponry.
But this and other examples of Chaffetz, Utah Rep. Chris Stewart and other Republicans questioning both the legal and practical aspects of federal ownership and management of federal lands is a purely political stand. It has had the unintended side effect of encouraging the very rebellious behavior, e.g. anything to do with the Bundy clan, that might well encourage BLM rangers to be looking at semi-automatic weapons catalogs.
Chaffetz is usually the one to call out the EPA for doing too much. As he did in voting for a December resolution opposing the agency's Clean Power Plan.
Rare is the politician, or even the politically aware person, who has a pure record of always favoring either the rights of the states or the powers of the federal government.
On matters ranging from civil rights to gay marriage to marijuana legalization to wilderness preservation, it is not at all uncommon for people to boost the right and the power of whichever jurisdiction will give them what they want.
If Chaffetz had a plan to give the EPA the power to do what he now says it should have done in Flint, his unimpeachable conservative, states-rights credentials could have carried a lot of weight in the Republican House.
Instead, his sudden discovery of an imagined federal supremacy in the Flint case flagrantly rolled out to excuse the inexcusable behavior of Michigan's Republican governor is neither principled nor pragmatic. It just stinks.