The Alf Defense: Don't open the e-mail, and it never happened

Categories: Environment

The Supreme Court gave the EPA an important, but fairly easy, job in 2007. The high court issued a ruling that required the federal agency to formally state whether greenhouse gases were pollutants representing a danger to health or the environment.

EPA complied, shipping its findings to the White House via electronic mail. It was then, according to the New York Times, that the Bush administration chose peculiar course of action: If we don't open the e-mail, White House officials reasoned, then the response never really happened, and we won't be bound to act on its findings. So they simply let the correspondence languish, forever highlighted, in the "New Mail" category.

That's right. In defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, the Bushies ran out the clock on their administration so they wouldn't have to do anything about fuel efficiency, pollution, and climate change. This is a strategy I refer to as "The Alf Defense."

Do you remember when TV's Alf guest-hosted the Tonight Show? (This really happened, as cultural archive supreme YouTube can attest; the audio is in Spanish for additional surrealism.)

When an interview would go in a direction that the 1980s' favorite puppet disdained, he would plug his substantial ears and sing. He would sing the following lines, to the tune of "Alouette": "I'm not listening, I can't even hear you; I'm the guest host, you are just a guest ..."

While effective, the Alf defense was previously thought available only to imaginary alien beings and surly three-year-olds. Apparently it's now become high fashion among those who fiddle as climate change burns the planet.

Actually, forget the greenhouse effect entirely for a second.

Even if you think climate change is a total scam (which, to be clear, disqualifies you from membership in the reality-based community, but for the sake of argument), think about the other aspects of this -- like better fuel efficiency for cars. Saves bucketloads of money. Conserves resources. That's undeniably in the public interest. Or preventing particulate pollution, which again, even if you don't buy that global warming is real, kills tens of thousands prematurely every year.

If the people currently in charge of this country could make real, substantive arguments about why action on these fronts was unnecessary, they would. It's easier to invoke the Alf Defense, though, especially if you think you can get away with it.

Due to outrage fatigue, that might just happen. In any other administration, stories like this would be enormous scandals. In the late-stage Bush era, they're just par for the course.

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