Tuesday, August 07, 2007

“The Environmental Pollution Agency” - EPA Chief Testifies Before Senate Committee

[By Matthew Maiorana]

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson was called to testify before the Environment and Public Works Committee on July 26th. The issue? A waiver request that would allow California to regulate vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. Senator Boxer, Chairwoman, believes the issue has been handled in an entirely unsatisfactory manner and demanded an explanation.

This issue will have huge repercussions. There are already 13 states waiting to adopt California’s emission standards (see previous post), something they can only do if California’s waiver is approved.

Under the Clean Air Act, California has the legal ability to increase fuel efficiency standards. However, to do so, it needs permission in the form of a waiver from the EPA. So they asked – in December 2005. Now the EPA says it wont have a decision until December, a full 2 years after the initial request. Even more concerning, Senator Boxer is convinced the Bush Administration is working to make sure California doesn’t receive any waiver, saying it is so obvious “you would have to be born yesterday not to see it.”

When asked the reason the decision has taken so long, Mr. Johnson gave multiple answers, none of which were sufficient for Senator Boxer. Initially, the EPA wouldn’t accept that CO2 can be regulated under the Clean Air Act - that it isn’t pollution. This argument lead to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA this past April saying that the EPA does have the authority to regulate CO2.

Finding a new excuse, the EPA argued it has received 60,000 letters, “an unprecedented number,” and that they must all be reviewed before making a decision. Boxer came back stating that 54,000 were 2 different mass mailing letters. Even more, those 54,000 were in support of California! Yet, Mr. Johnson insisted it still takes “rigorous analysis.”

The questioning then shifted to whether Mr. Johnson has discussed the waiver with the Bush Administration, which he admitted to - but only as part of routine conversations. While avoiding direct answers, he maintained the administration understands it is his decision to make. When Boxer attempted, for sake of clarity, to wrap-up what he said - that nobody in the White House had contacted him regarding the waiver, or given him their opinion - Johnson insisted that “to the best of my recollection” be added.

Senator Boxer later produced an internal document from the Department of Transportation (part of the administration) which read, “if asked our position, we say we are in opposition to the waiver.” When questioned about this, Mr. Johnson refused to condemn the statement, instead saying he wasn’t responsible for what they wrote. When pressured, he said “I defer to the DOT” 4 times in a row. Eventually he admitted to contacting the Department Secretary asking her to check with her constituency on the issue. Boxer came back immediately, “who is her constituency?!” A bit taken aback, Mr. Johnson defined them as interested members of congress and governors. Boxer was appalled, insisting that the duty of the DOT, not being an elected office, is to the American people.

Boxer ended by saying “your job is to protect, not to bow down to special interests, or call Rove, or anything else,” insisting that “the Environmental Pollution Agency” has “wasted time on purpose.” She gave her full permission for states to sue the EPA, saying this hearing hasn’t reassured her at all.

To combat the issue, Senators Boxer, Nelson, and Feinstein, have introduced S. 1785, a bill which would set a September 30 deadline for the EPA decision. Representative Jay Inslee (D-Wash) ha also introduced a corresponding House bill, H.R. 3083. The bills would also mandate that all future waiver requests be processed within 180 days.

S. 1785 passed out of the Environmental and Public Works Committee along party lines in last week (10-9) and should be taken up by the Senate when they return from August recess.

Click here to contact your senators and urge them to support S. 1785 and waivers for California and other states that have adopting the tailpipe emissions standards. After being delayed 1.5 years, it is far past time.

Hopefully the waiver will be approved, but Senator Boxer is already fed up with Mr. Johnson. “When history is written," she said to Mr. Johnson, "I think they’ll look back on your tenure as a missed opportunity, and that’s the nicest way I could put it.”

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