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SILVER SCREEN FEDS: ‘Apollo 13,’ ‘The Simpsons Movie’

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Russ Cargill oh-so-helpfully nudges President Schwarzenegger to pick the right plan. (from The Simpsons Movie, 20th Century Fox)

Today on Silver Screen Feds, Andy Medici takes a look at the best team of federal employees ever to grace the big screen: Mission control from “Apollo 13.” And keep reading for Stephen Losey’s take on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russ Cargill, from “The Simpsons Movie” — the first character we’ve profiled who descends into outright super-villainy.

BEST FEDS: Mission Control, NASA, “Apollo 13″ (Andy Medici)

Most of the time, being a good federal employee requires working well as a team. Being able to finish projects on tight deadlines while dealing with multiple other priorities is a staple of any fed’s tenure in government.

And in this case, there may be no better federal team in cinema than NASA’s mission control from “Apollo 13.” The 1995 film — directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and lots of other people everyone recognizes — follows the journey of the Apollo 13 astronauts as they attempt to reach Earth safely after a disaster onboard the ship renders it nearly useless.

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Life imitates South Park: EPA asks James Cameron for ideas on oil spill

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King of the World, and oil spills, James Cameron. If you thought his ego was bad before, just you wait.

Avatar director James Cameron was summoned to Washington yesterday to advise the Environmental Protection Agency on innovative ways to cap the massive, ever-worsening BP oil spill, according to the AFP.

AFP said Cameron attended the meeting with a Canadian submersible researcher, who built the submarines used on his 1989 movie The Abyss. But it doesn’t say exactly what real experience Cameron has with oil rigs, environmental cleanup, or anything else that qualifies him to figure out the many complicated technical issues that have stumped an entire industry. But hey, he did direct Titanic, which has something to do with water. Plus Avatar was, like, totally sweet. So he’s got that going for him.

Seriously, though, if the government is so out of ideas that they’re turning to an action movie director, we’re all in big trouble. It sounds disturbingly similar to the South Park episode Imaginationland, in which the Pentagon consults with directors Michael Bay, M. Night Shyamalan, and Mel Gibson to help them counter a terrorist threat. Hopefully the EPA’s meeting with Cameron went better than this:

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Deputy EPA administrator nominee is out

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Jon Cannon, President Barack Obama’s nominee for deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, withdrew his name from consideration Wednesday afternoon.

And in case you’re wondering, it’s not over unpaid taxes, an issue which has befallen a handful of Obama’s other nominees.

Cannon, an environmental law professor at the University of Virginia, said he withdrew because he once served on the board of a nonprofit group currently under investigation.

It has come to my attention that America’s Clean Water Foundation, where I once served on the board of directors, has become the subject of scrutiny. While my service on the board of that now-dissolved organization is not the subject of the scrutiny, I believe the energy and environmental challenges facing our nation are too great to delay confirmation for this position, and I do not wish to present any distraction to the agency.”

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had scheduled a confirmation hearing for Cannon for Thursday.

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Update: EPA confirmation back on track

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Update: Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., has lifted his objection to allowing a vote on Lisa Jackson’s nomination for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator by unanimous consent, Greg Keeley, Barrasso’s spokesman said. This means the vote could come as soon as this evening.

Barrasso’s change of heart came after he spoke with Carol Browner, Obama’s energy and environment czar. The pair will meet next week to discuss Barrasso’s concerns about her new role and how it may affect the  independence of EPA.


Original Post: EPA Confirmation Delayed

The Environmental Protection Agency may have to wait a while to see the changes Lisa Jackson, Obama’s nominee for agency administrator, promised at a hearing last week.

That’s because Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., has requested more time to review her nomination, CQ reported today (subscription may be required). Barrasso is not concerned so much about Jackson’s qualifications for the post, as he is about whether the new White House environmental czar, Carol Browner, would diminish or usurp Jackson’s authorities, according to CQ.

At last week’s hearing Barrasso expressed concern that Browner and Jackson would clash over how to implement environmental regulations.

“Who will ultimately make final EPA decisions?” Barasso asked. “If the two of you disagree on an environmental issue how does that work?”

Jackson replied that regardless of Browner’s White House role, EPA decisions will still fall to the administrator, and she will uphold and enforce the law if confirmed, Jackson said. She also downplayed the possibility of a turf war.

“I’m sure advisers can agree or disagree on any number of issues and her advice and counsel is something I will certainly seek,” Jackson said.

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Midnight rulemaking watch

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We reported earlier this month on the expected wave of “midnight regulation” at the end of the Bush administration. Agencies were supposed to issue all final regulations by Nov. 1, according to OMB, except in “extraordinary circumstances.”

But experts predicted dozens of new rules would miss the deadline and slip out the door before Jan. 20 (as happens during every transition).

Sure enough, there are more than a dozen new rules in today’s Federal Register, including at least two proposed rules (which agencies were supposed to stop creating by July 1). A few examples:

  • A final rule from the EPA sets limits on a pesticide called ipconazole used by agricultural companies;
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration finalized a rule on the number of hours truck and bus drivers can work;
  • A final Commerce Department rule allows fishermen to use “trawl gear” to catch halibut in Alaska; environmental groups say this is an extremely damaging method of fishing.

None of these rules appear driven by “extraordinary circumstances,” do they?

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