EPA decision controlled by White House CEQ in denial of California CO2 rules?

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In denying California and 16 other states the right to set their own standards for carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles, we believe the Environmental Protection Agency was suborned by White House politics to make a decision that appears to be without either good legal or scientific justification. Ask Marty Hall, Phil Cooney’s successor as chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and former top staffer for global warming denialist Sen. James Inhofe, what role CEQ and the Vice-President’s office played in manipulating what should have been an independent professional decision by EPA.

On December 20 the Washington Post reported on EPA administrator Stephen Johnson’s announcement of the decision attempting to deny the authority of California and 16 other states to set their own standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. We won’t refer to it as an “EPA decision” because we believe the White House made the decision, not EPA. The Post noted that legal and technical experts inside EPA advised that this decision will likely not stand up under a legal challenge—but how often does that sort of concern ever sway this administration?

Juliet Eilperin wrote in the Post (excerpt):

EPA Chief Denies Calif. Limit on Auto Emissions
Rules Would Target Greenhouse Gases

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson yesterday denied California’s petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, overruling the unanimous recommendation of the agency’s legal and technical staffs.

The decision set in motion a legal battle that EPA’s lawyers expect to lose and demonstrated the Bush administration’s determination to oppose any mandatory measures specifically targeted at curbing global warming pollution. A total of 18 states, representing 45 percent of the nation’s auto market, have either adopted or pledged to implement California’s proposed tailpipe emissions rules, which seek to cut vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016….

Environmentalists and state officials lambasted Johnson’s decision and pledged to sue to overturn it. In the past three months, federal judges in Vermont and California have twice rebuffed automakers’ attempts to block state tailpipe regulations. The auto industry had also lobbied the White House and EPA to block the California regulation, and the Detroit News reported that chief executives of Ford and Chrysler met with Vice President Cheney last month to discuss the issue.

“By refusing to grant California’s waiver request for its new motor vehicle standards to control greenhouse gas emissions, the administration has ignored the clear and very limited statutory criteria upon which this decision was to be based,” said S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents officials in 48 states. “Instead, it has issued a verdict that is legally and technically unjustified and indefensible.”

EPA’s lawyers and policy staff had reached the same conclusion, said several agency officials familiar with the process. In a PowerPoint presentation prepared for the administrator, aides wrote that if Johnson denied the waiver and California sued, “EPA likely to lose suit.”

If he allowed California to proceed and automakers sued, the staff wrote, “EPA is almost certain to win.”…

Recall that, in September, it was reported that:

President Bush’s transportation secretary, Mary Peters, with White House approval, personally directed a lobbying campaign to urge governors and two dozen House members to block California’s first-in-the-nation limits on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks, according to emails obtained by Congress. The emails show Peters worked closely with the top opponents in Congress of California’s emissions law and sought out governors from auto-producing states, who were seen as likely to oppose the state’s request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allow the new rules to go into effect….

The e-mails obtained by Congress also indicated that this inappropriate, if not illegal, secret lobbying campaign was approved by Marty Hall, chief of staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality—a position formerly held by oil industry lobbyist and global warming disinformation campaign agent Phil Cooney. See here—“How the White House Worked to Scuttle California’s Climate Law,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 September 2007

Prior to moving to CEQ in 2006, Hall was deputy staff director at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, then chaired by Sen. James Inhofe, leading Senate global warming denialist.  See here—“Sen. Inhofe aide to become CEQ chief of staff, sources say,” E&ENews, May 31, 2006”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Henry Waxman wrote to White house CEQ chair James Connaughton on September 24, 2007, calling on him to repudiate the lobbying efforts and ensure that the decision on the California waiver would be based on the merits of its application. Mr. Waxman’s letter also notes that, when questioned about whether the White House was intervening to manipulate the EPA decisionmaking process, Marty Hall resorted to Alberto Gonzales “I don’t recall”-type stonewalling.

Excerpts from the Waxman letter to Connaughton:

The documents obtained and the interviews conducted by the Committee provide significant new information about the efforts of Administration officials to block approval of the California standards. The documents and interviews show that senior Administration officials initiated an organized, systematic effort to lobby members of Congress and state governors to oppose California’s petition for a Clean Air Act waiver. This lobbying effort was personally directed by the Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters, apparently approved by your Chief of Staff in the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and coordinated with the motor vehicle industry….

Your Chief of Staff, Mr. Hall, was asked about the White House role when the Committee staff interviewed him. He did not confirm or deny White House involvement. He said he could not remember specifics. At least twenty times during the interview, he responded to questions about his knowledge of the lobbying campaign with variations of “I don’t recall.” …

Some of the documents indicate that the lobbying campaign was coordinated with the Environmental Protection Agency. Any such coordination would be especially problematic because EPA is charged with making an independent and objective decision on the California application.

There are multiple e-mails that contain references to communications between EPA, the Transportation Department, and the White House. On May 25, the Secretary’s executive assistant e-mailed Mr. Johnson, the Department’s Chief of Staff, that Marty Hall, your Chief of Staff, “spoke with Steve Johnson,” the EPA Administrator, before approving the Secretary’s calls to governors. In a May 31 e-mail to her Chief of Staff, Robert Johnson, Secretary Peters refers to “calls to the Gov’s on the issue I had discussed with Administrator Johnson.” …

The federal Clean Air Act provides that California is entitled to a decision on the merits of its application. The involvement of senior Administration officials, including Secretary Peters and your staff, in a behind-the-scenes campaign to lobby against EPA approval sends an unmistakable message: the Administration is trying to stack the deck against California’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. It suggests that political considerations – not the merits of the issue – will determine how EPA acts. That would violate the Clean Air Act.

I do not object to the consideration of the views of Secretary Peters or your views in the decision-making process. But this involvement should be transparent and based on the merits. If Secretary Peters has concerns about whether California’s application meets the legal standards set forth in the Clean Air Act, she should submit comments to EPA making her case. Instead of taking this action, however, she apparently sought and received White House approval to use taxpayer funds to mount a lobbying campaign designed to inject political considerations into the decision.

Emissions of greenhouse gases from motor vehicles are a major source of global warming. To its credit, California, under the leadership of a Republican governor, has promulgated standards that will begin to curb these emissions. I urge you to repudiate the lobbying campaign described in this letter and to take all steps necessary to ensure that the decision on the California waiver is based on the scientific and legal merits of its application.

Today we have the administration’s response. We will exempt the EPA professional staff from culpability for this decision, though it would serve the public interest if some of them would make available to Congress or the media any relevant internal information they may have that bears on the politics of how this happened.  As for EPA administrator Johnson, we expect he doesn’t really believe in the decision he announced.

 

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