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.

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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.