Last year, the Supreme Court ordered the Bush administration to follow the law and treat greenhouse gas emissions as pollution under the Clean Air Act. And the Bush administration quickly snubbed the ruling, by denying states the ability under the Clean Air Act to adopt strict standards for emissions from vehicles.
Now we learn that Bush’s EPA administrator and staff knew that decision was likely in violation of the law, but the White House forced them to block the state laws anyway.
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, after meeting with White House officials, reversed his earlier position and denied California’s authority to enforce its own controls on tailpipe emissions in December, a U.S. House investigative committee found Monday.
In fall 2007, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson was prepared to follow the unanimous recommendation of his professional staff and grant, at least in part, the state’s bid to enact landmark controls designed to cut global-warming pollution from new vehicles by almost 30 percent by 2016.
Jason Burnett, a Johnson deputy, told the House Oversight Committee in a deposition Thursday that Johnson was “very interested” in granting California a full or partial waiver from the Clean Air Act. But after Johnson talked with White House officials, “he ultimately decided to deny the waiver” and used “White House input” in his rationale, Burnett said.
The House committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, obtained 27,000 pages of documents from the EPA, some through a subpoena, and interviewed eight EPA officials. The EPA refused to turn over documents about communications with the White House, and Burnett said he was told by lawyers not to discuss Johnson’s meetings with White House officials or to disclose which officials he spoke to.
Waxman’s staff, citing Burnett’s deposition and other interviews, concluded that “the White House played a decisive role in the rejection of the California motor vehicle standards.”
The EPA documents show that professional analysts and other staffers strongly favored granting the waiver, citing California’s special status under the Clean Air Act for implementing its own controls. Karl Simon, an air quality official, described environmental threats to California from global warming in a September presentation, saying the state met the “compelling and extraordinary” conditions needed for a waiver.
EPA lawyers also told Johnson that if he denied the waiver, he would probably lose. “We don’t believe there are any good arguments against granting the waiver. All the arguments discussed here are likely to lose in court if we are sued,” staff lawyer Michael Horowitz wrote in an e-mail.
This is nothing new, of course. Conservatives urged Bush from Day 1 of his administration to cripple our civil service and prevent them from following facts and the law.
Snubbing the Supreme Court only adds an extra dose of disrespect for our Founders’ vision of checks and balances.