Leader Blues

Friday, January 16, 2009

EDITORIAL >>Pollution control not on agenda

Thomas Schueck, the president of a flourishing steel company at Little Rock, is a member of the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, where he sits as a representative of polluting industries. Conflicts of interest are almost unavoidable in such an arrangement, so you would expect that Schueck and everyone involved in the regulatory scheme would be keenly watchful for them.

You would be disappointed.

A permit for utility conglomerates to build a big coal-fired generating plant in Hempstead County was appealed to Schueck’s commission last fall. Unless Governor Beebe replaces him on the commission, he will help decide that appeal. Meantime, Schueck insisted that his fellow commissioners allow the utilities to proceed with construction of the plant before it is ever decided whether the environmental poisons that it will emit are acceptable. People need the jobs down there, he said, and the commissioners voted with him.

Now it turns out that Schueck’s company all along had at least six projects with the companies that are building the generating plant. Should he have divulged all of that and recused from the case because he was transparently conflicted? Sure he should have. But that has never been how the regulatory commission worked. On the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, a person who has a personal or business interest in a question before him is simply a person who is apt to be more knowledgeable.

The public interest thus becomes inseparable from private interests. When that happens, when the regulator’s task is to see that the regulated party gets what it wants, there is no need for regulation at all. It is a sham. That has described the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission since its creation a half-century ago, and regrettably it describes it today.