EPA officials take jobs with top polluters after easing their rulesIt doesn't rise to the level of scandal anymore when top federal rule-makers cash in by resigning and going to work for companies they were just regulating.

It should horrify us.

There's plenty of blame to go around. It wasn't an uncommon practice in the Clinton administration. And, in a similar vein, it isn't unusual for newspaper reporters to go to work as flacks for industries or agencies they once covered.

But jaded though we are to this pattern of behavior, citizens still ought to be shocked by the extremes reached last week when the Los Angeles Times reported two top Environmental Protection Agency officials deeply involved in easing air-pollution rules for old power plants have taken jobs with companies benefiting from the changes.

As reported by the Times, days after the changes in the power-plant pollution rule were announced the week before last, John Pemberton, chief of staff in EPA's air and radiation office, told colleagues he is joining Southern Co. as director of federal affairs. The Atlanta-based utility is the nation's No. 2 power-plant polluter and was a driving force in lobbying for the rule changes.

Ed Krenik, who had been the EPA's associate administrator for congressional affairs, started work last Tuesday at Bracewell & Patterson, a top Houston-based law firm that coordinated lobbying for several utilities on easing the power-plant pollution rule.

EPA issued typical denials that anything was amiss, denying even that the two men had much to do with the rule changes over which their offices wielded enormous influence. This is like trying to clean up a messy crime scene by slopping paint over the blood-stained furniture.

Others in the know state Pemberton and Krenik were key players in a decision freeing polluters from most obligations to install new emission controls, technologies that were supposed to be phased-in beginning back in the 1970s.

Not since the administration of President Warren Harding have there been so many examples like this of top bureaucrats flagrantly treating government as a feeding trough. Our capacity to be shocked by political self-dealing and greed has been battered down flat as a soda can on the freeway. Anyone with even a scintilla of pride for America should be up in arms about this one.

"There's no decent interval," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Rockefeller Family Fund's Environmental Integrity Project and former head of the EPA's enforcement division. "The ink isn't even dry on (the rule change). This seems so blatant. This is a big rule, and the company has lobbied for it really hard," he told the LA Times.

The even sadder thing is that this is just the nose of the grizzly. During and after this administration, it's guaranteed many former industry hacks who were appointed to agency jobs will be rehired by the firms they're now supposed to be overseeing.

We live in an age when our gatekeepers lower the drawbridge to the enemies of public health and civic responsibility. They are well paid for their efforts. Whatever happened to honor?