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EPA Administrator on the Hot Seat

Posted by: John Carey on February 26, 2008

The Senate today released documents showing how EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson bucked the scientific and legal experts on his staff when he denied California’s request for tighter auto emissions standards.

Some quick background: Under the Clean Air Act, California has the right to set tougher rules than the feds for auto emissions (which other states can then sign onto). To do so, California needs a waiver from the EPA, which the agency has always granted. Now, however, California wants to regulate the emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which can only be reduced by boosting fuel economy. To the White House, that’s a backdoor way of mandating reductions in greenhouse gases, which it adamantly opposes. And late last year, EPA Administrator denied California’s request for the waiver.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works suspected that the decision was purely political, flying in face of what EPA’s own staff was recommending. It asked for documents explaining the decision. The Administration hasn’t been exactly forthcoming with those documents. But recently, the agency did hand over a few. Those documents prove that Johnson’s decision went against the judgment of the agency’s professional scientists and professional legal experts, says Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif).

One memo was particularly striking. “If you are asked to deny this waiver, I fear the credibility of the agency that we both love will be irreparably damaged,” a top EPA official wrote to Johnson. For more, see:

Says Boxer: “When you have top professional person making this type of heartfelt plea, and it is ignored, that is extraordinary.”



BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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