Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit highlights a Powerline piece from Sunday by Steven Hayward on “demosclerosis,” which Hayward sees evidence of in the twin tales of the Keystone XL pipeline and a fallen Sequoia redwood tree in California.

For a slightly different tale of demosclerosis, see the Wall Street Journal today on “Flies and their lawyers,” which are keeping the Paiute Cutthroat Trout from “going home.”  The drama unfolds in the Sierra Nevada wilderness of California, southeast of Tahoe near the Nevada border.  In brief, the Paiute cutthroat trout (not to be confused with other varieties of cutthroat trout, like the Lahontan, for which there are also restoration projects underway) has been absent for decades from the 9-mile-long lower-creek area from which it is believed to have sprung some 10,000 years ago.  State fish and game officials introduced different varieties of trout into the lower-creek area some time back, and those trout did away with the Paiute cutthroat.

Happily, however, in 1912 a guy toted some Paiute cutthroats to the upper-creek area, above the waterfall, and the Paiute cutthroat trout survives to this day.  California Fish and Game and the federal authorities want to reintroduce the Paiute cutthroat to the lower creek.  They’ve been working on it since 1990.  The process itself isn’t expected to take long – get rid of the “non-native” fish by killing them off, put the Paiute cutthroat back in – but the regulatory requirements and the lawsuits have kept the restoration waiting on the shelf for 21 years.

Lawsuits?  Who could object to restoration of the Paiute cutthroat trout in its ancestral home?  That would be the legal defenders of invertebrates, of course.  Defenders of “flies,” to put it in WSJ’s generic terms.  Well, and people who just don’t like the use of chemicals.  To eliminate the unwanted fish, the state authorities want to use rotenone, a chemical whose naturally occurring base, found in the roots of common plants, was once used by indigenous tribes to kill fish for easier harvesting.  Rotenone would be tough on the flies (although they would be back in force pretty quickly).

Now, it turns out that the EPA has already been pleased (literally, that’s their word) to note that the project managers plan to use forms of rotenone that do not contain the synergist piperonyl butoxide (PBO).  They would prefer that the project use a rotenone compound with less naphthalene wherever possible, of course, and they recommend that Tamarack Lake receive physical treatment only (that is, have the unwanted fish removed physically rather than by chemical extermination).  They note that the lake is already deemed to be fishless, but the project managers reserve the authority to treat it chemically if the need arises.  The EPA wants them to commit to physical removal as their method of prior choice.

EPA also shoehorns the following into the agency’s May 2010 comment on the Final Environmental Impact Statement regarding the restoration project:

Finally, we wish to comment on the statement in “Master Response I” regarding climate change (p. F-16, last paragraph). The response states that the evaluation of cumulative impacts of the project and climate change are not required under NEPA since NEPA only requires consideration of project impacts in combination with other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable projects, and that climate change is not a project under this definition. We strongly disagree with this interpretation. In fact, the Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) cumulative effects handbook1 identifies global climate change as an example of cumulative effects (CEQ, p. 9) and identifies indirect effects, such as climate change, as important in improving the analysis of cumulative effects (CEQ, p. 7).

In case you were wondering.

We could focus on the sensation of swimming in tar that one gets from tracing one of these bureaucracy-lawsuit-regulation-fests.  But there are two other important perspectives on this, one of which is that this is what your tax dollars are doing for you.  Some questions to consider:

1.  Do you care if the Paiute cutthroat trout, which is already surviving elsewhere, is reintroduced to the 9 miles of lower creek where, over the millennia, it developed its unique markings?

2.  Do you care enough to pay for the restoration?

3.  Do you care enough to spend all the money spent by the US federal government and the states of California and Nevada to overcome years’ worth of regulatory bureaucracy and lawsuits?

4.  Do you think this is a high-priority topic for the US federal courts?

5.  Would you care even if the Paiute cutthroat trout had not survived?

6.  Since this whole issue has arisen because of fish management activities undertaken by government officials in the past, should we not think twice about continuing to bustle around relocating fish, for abstract, sometimes fanciful reasons that end up competing with each other down the road?

The other important perspective on this is that a burdensome, demosclerotic process of this kind can only be sustained by government.  Government doesn’t have to worry about a bottom line – at least not in the short run.  You’ve got government’s back.

You certainly can’t institute processes like this in the administration of your own life.  (Imagine telling your mortgage-holder that your payment is being held up by the environmental impact statement.)  Businesses can’t tolerate them.  These processes are extremely inefficient and dysfunctional: they actively prevent the objective from being reached, in favor of endless deliberations from which more and more people come to derive their livelihoods.

Virtually all of the money that has changed hands so far has gone to lawyers, advocacy “experts,” and government employees, none of whom gets anything done that generates food, shelter, commerce, production jobs, and revenue.  Every single speck of this whole tale is self-imposed overhead.  It’s as if the clerical and janitorial staff, Human Resources and the legal department and the electric power company, all combined forces to prevent the sales staff from selling anything, or the logistics staff from getting the product delivered, or the production line from rolling anything off of it, finished and ready for the customer.

A business could never run this way.  It would be bankrupt by the third day of operation.  But there’s one more perspective worth taking a look at here, and that is the modernist perspective:  that we know enough, and government agencies are smart and well-appointed enough, to cruise the landscape with perfect foresight, resettling the fish for what are basically sentimental purposes.  It’s an odd marriage of irredentism and technological self-satisfaction, as if we can now use technology and the majestic powers of government to enforce mythical beliefs.

The most important question of all – whether this project is something worth having the taxpayer-funded government do – doesn’t get a serious debate.  The important question never gets posed to the people footing the bill.  Instead, with a government now run largely through its bureaucracies, and a court system attuned to arcane environmentalism, the process is extended for years, costing more and more money, over ancillary questions like how much naphthalene ought to be present in the rotenone compound, and whether fish are sexier than flies, environmental-advocacy-wise.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.

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