Friday, January 25, 2008

EPA Hates California's Air!!!

From today's Progress Report:

ENVIRONMENT
Environmental Punishment Agency

Last month, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson said he would deny an EPA waiver to California that would have allowed the state -- and 15 others -- to implement tougher standards on greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Even as the White House lauded the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, signed into law the same day, as a means to "add to the President's ongoing efforts to enhance conservation and efficiency," it refused to support California's efforts to "impose what would have been the country's toughest greenhouse gas standards on cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles." The state's proposed rule would have required car companies to achieve a 30 percent reduction of emissions by 2016, as distinct from raising fuel efficiency standards in cars, the tactic employed in the federal energy bill. But Johnson has argued "that the newly revised federal standard for vehicle fuel efficiency...was a better approach to reducing auto emissions because it was more uniform." In early January, the 16 states sued the agency over its decision. "Who does the Administrator think he and the EPA work for?" Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asked. "The EPA Administrator needs to be reminded that he works for the American people." She added, "The Bush EPA can run, but they can't hide." Yesterday, Boxer introduced legislation that would reverse the EPA's decision and allow California and the other states to impose the emissions standard law.

JOHNSON WHITEWASHES REPORTS: When Boxer requested to see agency documents that indicated how the EPA made its decision, the agency instead cited executive privilege. EPA Associate Administrator Christopher Bliley wrote to Boxer, "The EPA is concerned about the chilling effect that would occur if agency employees believed their frank and honest opinions and analysis expressed as part of assessing California's waiver request were to be disclosed in a broad setting." Just three days later, the Los Angeles Times reported that Johnson had denied the waiver over the advice of EPA staffers. The report quoted an EPA staffer who said that "we all told" Johnson that "California met every criteria" for the waiver request. At a Senate hearing yesterday, Boxer slammed Johnson for his agency's obstruction. "Colleagues, this is the tape," Boxer said, holding up a bowl of white duct tape scraps the EPA had used to redact parts of documents it sent to Boxer's office. "This administration, this is what they did to us. They put this white tape over the documents. ...This isn't national security. This isn't classified information, colleagues. This is information the people deserve to have. And this is not the way we should run the greatest government in the world. It does not befit us."

JOHNSON OVERRULES STAFF: The EPA's reluctance to disclose its decision-making process likely stems from the fact that Johnson overruled the consensus of his staff in denying California's waiver, as the Los Angeles Times had suggested in December. This week, the EPA finally relented and allowed Boxer and her staff to examine -- but not photocopy -- documents relating to the waiver decision, including a staff-prepared slideshow that predicted the EPA was "likely to lose [a] suit" if it denied California's waiver and faced a lawsuit from the states. The documents also showed that EPA staff argued that California had "compelling and extraordinary conditions" -- including conditions making the state "vulnerable to climate change" -- that warranted its tougher emissions standards. Ignoring the clear consensus of his staff, however, Johnson explicitly stated in his denial that California did not possess "compelling and extraordinary conditions" that would justify its stringent emissions-reduction policies.

JOHNSON MISSES THE POINT: Besides denying California's waiver, Johnson also seems to be in denial about the seriousness of climate change. He hedged when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked him whether global warming was "a major crisis" facing the world. "I don't know what you mean by major crisis," Johnson said, to which Sanders countered, "The usual definition of the term 'major crisis' would be fine." Johnson would admit only that it was "a serious issue." Sanders also asked if Johnson agreed that "bold action" was needed, to which Johnson agreed that "action" was required. Johnson's constant hedging frustrated Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), whom could not get a straight answer regarding the agency's regular process for reviewing waiver requests. "It's a serious matter," Whitehouse pressed Johnson. "So I will hope you will give me a real answer to it and not just lots of gobbledygook about administrative law, which I'm pretty familiar with." Yesterday, 13 governors, including Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) and Janet Napolitano (D-AZ), wrote to Johnson expressing their frustration with his decision and voicing objections to his declaration that the new energy bill's fuel economy standards rendered the states' efforts moot. "Fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards are not the same. Although both are laudable, they achieve distinctly different goals," the governors wrote. "The federal government, with this unprecedented action, is ignoring the rights of states, as well as the will of more than one hundred million people across the U.S. We stand by our commitment to bring cleaner cars to our states."

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