The Full Employment Act for Clean Air

Taking a page from his Golden State, former President Richard Nixon allowed the United States EPA to take root in 1970, ostensibly to do on the federal level what California had accomplished out West. But since California was first and claimed the most smog (especially around the L.A. sprawl), it got to keep its very own air pollution laws. For quite some time, automakers had to make special cars to meet California standards, although those vehicles could leave the state with you if you moved and perhaps help clean up other states. Some of that benefit was offset by allowing less-excellent, out-of-state cars to bring families into our Golden State as long as it could be proven the out-of-state cars arrived here for that purpose. It's complicated and that's why we need so many bureaucrats to keep track of it all. So add more than 18,000 (and growing) feds to the California total and billions of taxpayers dollars to keep things clean and shiny.

If you think that our federal government and a gaggle of states that have created agencies to manage the environment are enough, you're obviously a committed Libertarian or a supporter of Ron Paul. In fact, it's not enough that states are no longer united in the air business; metro areas and even cities have got into the act. In the San Francisco region, the air is further examined by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), with "Air Quality Management" replacing "Air Pollution Control" to keep the 350-person outfit contemporary and well-wired suppliers designing logos and producing new stationary. Its original purpose was to keep tabs on vapor from refineries, wrecking yards, and even aerosol spray cans, but dabbling in motor vehicles was soon added to the list.

The earth-saving feats of the BAAQMD have been programs to call a hot line if you witness a vehicle smoking. Since the average motorist is a poor witness to the origin of bad smoke and some miscreants found the toll-free number a great place to rat out their adversaries, the snitch line died of natural causes. It's been replaced by Spare the Air alerts and gathering fellow bureaucrats to learn about perils that are besieging our planet. Recently the agency paid NY Times' roving gadfly Thomas Friedman $75,000 to enlighten 500 fellow bureaucrats as part of a $200,000 summit at a luxury resort.

If you think this is the end of air foolishness, don't be so hasty -- there's more. A few years ago, I was surprised to learn that the  San Francisco had its own Department of the Environment, an agency that may have found its origins in garbage management. Back then, there were only a few folks hanging out on the public's payroll. Today more than 70 toil to keep their part of the planet clean.

Of course, all these public servants are compensated with salaries and benefits that most of us can barely imagine. There are admin positions that pay six figures, supplemented with fully-paid medical care, life insurance, retirement, deferred compensation, and education reimbursement. And it's a growth industry at a time of financial stress. Just remember that when your government asks for more tax money.