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Less government is more? Ask the people of San Bruno

September 1, 2011 | 11:19 am

San Bruno pipeline blast 
Is the best government one that governs the least? 

Many Republicans today argue yes. 

If so, they have their wish, both in Washington and in California.

We may not have the small government they want, but we certainly have a government that doesn't govern much.

Nothing is too big, or too small, to fight over in Washington today.  Disaster aid for victims of Hurricane Irene?  Not so fast, says House GOP leader Eric Cantor.

The president wants to address Congress  on jobs -– everyone's No. 1 issue?  Not so fast, says House Speaker John Boehner.  

It's smart politics by Republicans, who want to win back the presidency in 2012 and see no reason to help out President Obama and the Democrats.

And if the GOP succeeds in 2012?  Then Democrats will take on the obstructionist role. 

And if the GOP fails?  Well, why would it help a second-term Obama, when there's always 2016 to look forward to?

As my dad used to say: We're in for a long, cold winter.

But does it really matter? After all, Democrats pushed for an economic stimulus, but the economy is still struggling and unemployment remains high.

Republicans say government can't create jobs.  Of course, to spur job creation, they push for lower taxes, which they got through the extension of the Bush tax cuts. But the economy is still struggling and unemployment remains high.

So, if Obama is reelected, should we try another stimulus?

And, if a Republican wins, should we cut taxes?

Isn't one definition of insanity "doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results"?

OK, we can’t expect government to help us out on the big issues.  What about the smaller stuff?

A conservative mantra, especially in California, is that government is strangling business with regulations.

As a counterpoint, talk to the people of San Bruno. As The Times reported this week:

In a scathing critique, federal investigators blamed Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for what one official called "baffling" mistakes that led to a gas pipeline explosion last September that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in the Bay Area last year.

The National Transportation Safety Board also said PG&E exploited the lack of monitoring by regulators, who mistakenly placed "blind trust" in the utility. ... 

The NTSB also took aim at the California Public Utilities Commission and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for contributing to the tragedy. They said that in 1961 the utilities commission exempted all natural gas pipelines built before 1961 from pressure testing. The federal government did the same for pipelines built before 1970. ...    

The NTSB estimates that about half the natural gas pipelines in the United States or about 150,000 miles of lines were built before 1970. Because of the exemptions, the NTSB said it was impossible to determine the safety levels of those lines. According to the agency, PG&E has assessed only about 65 feet of the 47 miles of gas pipeline it operates through San Bruno and the western part of the Bay Area. ...

Board members said they were dismayed that the resources for regulatory agencies have been reduced over the years, forcing inspectors to rely increasingly on representations and self-assessments from utilities that they are doing the right thing.

Hmmm. Sounds to me like PG&E wasn't exactly strangled by regulations. Sounds to me more like everyone involved, in business and government, played Russian roulette with the safety of the good folks of San Bruno, and lots of other people as well.

So let's ask that question again: Is the best government one that governs the least? 


How to pay for disasters

August sales at major retailers beat expectations

S.C. governor rejects health insurance exchange funds

Taxpayers will foot big share of post-Irene flooding costs

Our next Republican president should favor smaller government

-- Paul Whitefield
Photo: A PG&E inspector scrutinizes a portion of the gas main the day after the pipeline explosion in September 2010 that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes in San Bruno. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times
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