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Zombies, USEPA, and "Surviving the Blood Moon"...

For the past 2 years, my son and I have been pretty obsessed with killing video game zombies in one form or another. Nearly every evening, after his homework is done, we sit down together for 30 minutes or so of wholesome zombie carnage. Our game of choice last year was Call of Duty: Black Ops II Zombies on the Playstation 3. We liked this game because it supports cooperative split screen mode where we can both play together (and help one another) on the same screen at the same time.

Santa Claus brought my son a Playstation 4 this Christmas. He also stuffed a new zombie game in my son's stocking. This one's called 7 Days to Die. Unlike Call of Duty (which focuses entirely on killing as many zombies as quickly as possible), 7 Days to Die is a strategic survival game. Being horribly outnumbered with no way to protect yourself at the beginning of the game, the keys to success are planning, cooperation, building a safe zombie-proof shelter, and satisfying everything else in your on-screen avatar's Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Killing zombies is a relatively infrequent last resort. (This last part makes my wife "happier" – clearly she's a much better and more responsible parent than I am...)

Strangely, 7 Days to Die is actually a pretty good analogue for the EHS profession. Long stretches of mundanity and repetition (searching for food, water and supplies, building, rebuilding, and repairing shelters and defenses) are occasionally interrupted and punctuated by moments of unmitigated terror as the odd zombie – or worse, a group of zombies – attacks you. Sound familiar? For an EHS professional, long stretches of mundanity and repetition (recordkeeping, reports, audits, inspections, training, etc.) are occasionally interrupted by NOVs, agency inspections, spills, releases, malfunctions, injuries, and citations (but, hopefully, no zombies).

So how does a zombie video game relate to USEPA, and what the heck is a "blood moon"? The title of 7 Days to Die refers to a story element in the game in which a "blood moon" appears at the end of every seventh day of game play. During these blood moons, zombies organize into rampaging hordes to relentlessly attack your shelter with the goals of killing you, probably eating your brain, and ending the game. This necessitates playing the game in a sort of rhythm. You spend the first six days and daylight of the seventh day stockpiling provisions, fortifying your shelter, and gathering whatever crude defensive weapons you can. On the seventh night when the blood moon comes, you hide, try to survive, and hope your defenses hold-up. If you make it until morning, you assess the damage and start the building (and rebuilding) all over again.

With what's been going on at USEPA throughout the first year of the Trump Administration, I'd argue we're in those first six and a half quiet "days" as it pertains to environmental compliance and enforcement. It seems we'll see substantially fewer new regulations coupled with less federal enforcement until at least 2020 (and perhaps through 2024). With less pressure from analyzing and preparing for new regulations, this is a perfect time for EHS professionals to get their environmental houses in order. Conduct audits, improve existing policies (or create new ones), and get your air, water, and waste permits squared-away.

The lull in federal pressure would appear to be temporary. On the "seventh night", USEPA very likely will be back with a vengeance (or at least as much vengeance as a federal administrative agency can muster). This is not a time to permanently dismantle compliance systems, dramatically reduce EHS staffing, or get lax with permitting, monitoring, recordkeeping or reporting. There will be an environmental "blood moon", we just don't know exactly when. Now is the time to get ready for it as we've got a temporary reprieve from a constant stream of new regulations (especially on the air pollution side).

Finally, let's wrap this up by putting ourselves in the shoes of a well-meaning and conscientious USEPA staffer (of which there are untold thousands). Keep in mind that their view of what's going on here is completely opposite to our analogy. Though they surely wouldn't put it in these words (OK...maybe some would...), they may see themselves and their Agency as being under attack for the next several years. To the extent they survive (and most will), when the "zombie horde" (obviously in the context of the zombie theme of this post, and not to cast any aspersions towards any political party) abates and the sun comes up, USEPA will immediately need to go into a rebuilding mode. If they're anything like my son and I, when they rebuild, they won't be rebuilding like-kind replacements. They'll try and make everything bigger, better, and stronger. Make yourself ready for that contingency as well.

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