More on White House overruling EPA staff

Shortly after the energy bill raised CAFE standards, EPA administrator Stephen Johnson announced the EPA was denying California’s application to regulate vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. This was widely reported in the traditional media, but the LA Times dug a little deeper and got more on the story than most. The LA Times also discovered that the EPA may be ignoring the May’s Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA:

In response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that the EPA could and probably should regulate greenhouse gases as a threat to public health, Johnson had promised to have his staff prepare by Dec. 31 a national proposal on how greenhouse gases from vehicles should be regulated.

Staff and other sources said the proposed standard cleared all EPA internal reviews and was forwarded to the Department of Transportation last week, before the energy bill was done.

But it is now unclear, when, if ever, such a proposed regulation will be issued.

Johnson ordered staff to stop work on the federal greenhouse gas proposal, said two sources inside and outside the agency.

The portion related to California’s waiver request is also worth reading:

Technical and legal staff also concluded that if the waiver were denied, EPA would very likely lose in court to the state, the sources said.

But if Johnson granted California the waiver and the auto industry sued, EPA is almost certain to win, said two sources quoting the briefing document. They advised him to either grant the waiver outright or give California a temporary one for three years.

Instead, three sources said, Johnson cut off any consultation with his technical staff for the last month and made his decision before having them write the formal, legal justification for it.

It’s very highly unusual, said one source with close ties to the agency.

Normally the technical staff would be part of the final decision-making process, including briefing the administrator and writing the formal legal document before his decision. In this case, the briefings were done, but the formal finding has yet to be drafted.

The LA Times article also gives insight into why Johnson overruled EPA staff:

Some staff members believe Johnson made his decision after auto executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney and after a Chrysler executive delivered a letter to the White House outlining why neither California nor the EPA should be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases, among other reasons. The Detroit News reported Wednesday that chief executives of Ford and Chrysler met with Cheney last month.

Clearly the White House said, We’re going to get EPA out of the way and get California out of the way. If you give us this energy bill, then we’re done, the deal is done, said one staffer.

One of the harshest critics of Johnson’s action was Connecticut’s Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell, who said, The EPA has not only refused to take a leadership role in addressing greenhouse gas emissions, it is now actually holding back states from doing so on their own. They have gone from being a passive failure to actively interfering with progress.

— Earl K.

6 Responses to More on White House overruling EPA staff

  1. manuel says:

    Sence when does the EPA make laws? I thought only the congress makes the laws?

  2. John Mashey says:

    yes, Congress makes laws, but if the executive branch doesn’t enforce them, they in effect modify the laws, because the result that matters isn’t the law, it’s howthe law actually works in real life.

  3. manuel says:

    I do not think I understand as much yet. Are the laws against for California to do the regulation of the greenhouse gas? So executive branch did not enforce that? but EPA had to do it? Why can’t not they do that if they want to in Califonia? Did congresse tell them no they must not do it?

  4. manuel says:

    Are EPA part of executive branch or congress branch? Or a other part?

  5. Joe says:

    Under the Clean Air Act, California has the right to have tougher air regulations than the nation, but only if the EPA (a part of the executive branch) grants them a waiver, which they have done dozens of times. Not this time, even though the Supreme Court has ruled that CO2 is a pollutant.

    Note: any state can adopt either the national standard or California’s, and a number of states have already said that they will. EPA will probably lose this in court and EPA’s lawyers told the administrator that, making the action particularly pointless.

  6. Earl Killian says:

    To add to Joe’s comment, the Clean Air Act has several tests that California must meet in its waiver requests. If it meets them, the law says the EPA must grant the waiver (this is from Judge Ishii’s analysis in the recent lawsuit verdict over AB1493). It appears that the EPA staff understood this, based upon Janet Wilson’s reporting, but staff were overruled by the White House. Thus the White House appears to have violated the law. The justifications given by the White House man in charge of the EPA had nothing to do with the criteria that the law spells out. Rather Stephen Johnson simply said California’s action would be undesirable. That is hardly a basis on which to reject a legal requirement to grant the waiver.