Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Environment Has Been Redacted

While most of the Big Dogs in the U.S. blogosphere are busy obsessing over polls and primaries, some folks at Talking Points Memo Muckraker are actually following the drama currently being played out in the Senate environmental committee.

This is all over the EPA’s decision to refuse to allow California to impose its own, tougher greenhouse gas emission standards last December. In case you missed it, California had applied for a waiver allowing them to impose stricter GHG emission standards, and by extension fuel efficiency standards, than those which applied to the rest of the country (the ‘waiver’ procedure is part of the fine print in the Clean Air Act). Such EPA waivers have always been granted to California because it is recognized that their unique geography and insane number of cars on the road require extraordinary measures when it comes to reducing air pollution.

EPA staff unanimously agreed that the waiver should be granted in this case, but much to their surprise their boss, Bush appointee Stephen Johnson went against their recommendations and announced that he would be denying California’s request, tying it all neatly into Bush’s new energy bill in a rather self-congratulatory press release:
America Receives a National Solution for Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions

(Washington, D.C. – December 19, 2007) The Bush Administration is moving forward with a national solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from American vehicles. The new energy legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Bush this week provides a federal fuel economy standard that offers environmental benefits, energy security and economic certainty for the nation.

"The Bush Administration is moving forward with a clear national solution – not a confusing patchwork of state rules – to reduce America’s climate footprint from vehicles," said U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "President Bush and Congress have set the bar high, and, when fully implemented, our federal fuel economy standard will achieve significant benefits by applying to all 50 states."

Ah, yes - there’s that "patchwork" word again.

Johnson is being called up on the carpet by the Senate environmental committee, who want him to not only explain how he arrived at this bizarre decision, but to justify his going against the unanimous recommendations of his staff. This of course would require an actual copy of the staff’s recommendations, which the EPA has been loathe to provide. They even came up with a variation of the ‘executive privilege’ excuse after they handed over a stack of papers that were completely blank except for the titles. Everything else, said Johnson, would cause "needless public confusion about the Administrator’s decision that EPA will be denying California’s request"

You’d think this was the Department of Defense and not the EPA.

Johnson finally agreed to let Senate committee members have a peek at the unredacted documents - but only if the documents weren’t photocopied or removed from the EPA offices. So Sen. Boxer and her staff went on a little field trip, only to discover that the documents had been almost completely covered over with white tape.

Boxer is pissed. Today she tore a strip out of Johnson, confronting him with a rather large ball of white tape:

What she and the committee found under all that tape were facts and conclusions that completely contradict the arguments put forward by Johnson, as well as predictions that a denial decision would result in a lawsuit that the EPA would likely lose.

And so it has.

Something to keep in mind if Flaherty and Baird ever try to actively prevent Quebec and other provinces from implementing their own California-type standards.


"Rather than wait for litigation to reach its preordained conclusion, Senate environmental committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would overrule EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and instruct him to grant California's waiver."

Barbara Boxer is my hero.

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