EPA Chief Blasted for Denying California Clean Car Waiver

WASHINGTON, DC, January 24, 2008 (ENS) – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, introduced legislation today that would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grant California a waiver under the Clean Air Act to cut global warming pollution from motor vehicles.

A host of other Democratic senators stepped up to co-sponsor the measure, including presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

The basis for Administrator Stephen Johnson’s December 19, 2007 decision to deny California a waiver of less stringent federal standards announced in a hastily convened 6:30 pm press conference is now the focus of growing scrutiny.

Senator Boxer said, “Administrator [Stephen] Johnson’s decision to deny the waiver was not supported by the facts, by the law, by the science, or by precedent. I will use every available tool to ensure that California and the nation are able to reduce the pollution that causes global warming. One of those tools is legislation that essentially overturns Mr. Johnson’s actions.”

Senator Diane Feinstein of California said, “It’s become clear that Administrator Johnson’s denial of California’s waiver was based on politics, not science. Even the EPA’s own experts have said that there was a compelling need for action. So, today, Senator Boxer and I have introduced legislation to take this decision out of the hands of the EPA – and allow California to move ahead with curbing tailpipe emissions.”

Senator Lieberman said, “The vision and leadership of California, Connecticut, and the other states that have moved to curb global warming pollution from cars should be rewarded by the grant of authority to implement the states’ programs. In the wake of the Bush administration’s failure to follow federal law and deliver the needed authority, we in Congress must step in with legislation that gives the states the go-ahead to fight climate change.”

Senator Clinton said, “It is outrageous that the Bush Administration chose to block the efforts of New York, California and many other states that want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. Chairman Boxer’s continued oversight on this issue is critically important, and I am proud to join with her in introducing legislation to overturn EPA’s wrongheaded decision and allow states to move forward on global warming.”

Senator Obama said, “Effectively tackling global warming demands bold and innovative solutions, and given the failure of this Administration to act, California should be allowed to pioneer. I commend Chairman Boxer for her leadership on this bill and on working to eliminate the damaging consequences of climate change around the world.”

EPA Administrator
Stephen Johnson
(Photo courtesy U.S.

Johnson himself, testifying before the committee today, reiterated all the arguments he as given before as justification for his decision to block California’s legislation, which would require a 23 percent cut in heat-trapping emissions from new cars by 2012 and a 30 percent cut in heat-trapping emissions from new cars by 2016.

“I believe that it is preferable, as a matter of policy, to have uniform national standards to address fuel economy issues across the entire fleet of domestic and foreign manufactured vehicles sold in the United States. I just think this is common sense,” he said.

Johnson said he expects his decision to be challenged in court once it has been published in the Federal Register.

Scientists, lawyers and other specialists working within the EPA are expressing dismay about Johnson’s lack of “credibility” in explaining his decision to reject a request by California to regulate greenhouse gases from automobiles, according to a joint letter from labor unions released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER.

The joint letter is signed by presidents of locals from four unions – the American Federation of Government Employees, the Engineers and Scientists of California, the National Association of Government Employees, and the National Treasury Employees Union. These unions represent thousands of EPA scientists, engineers and other technical specialists.

This morning, Johnson was grilled by members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. His sworn testimony and answers only seemed to fuel doubts about the merits of his decision, said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.

In today’s hearing, Johnson revealed, for the first time, that he was motivated to act abruptly due to reports of inaccurate “leaks” from his staff. Meanwhile, Johnson is defying Congressional requests for full release of documents detailing the recommendations from his technical and legal staff.

“By his performance today, Stephen Johnson forfeited whatever shred of credibility he once enjoyed,” said Ruch.

Ruch observes that Johnson’s decision was represented as the product of months of legal and scientific deliberation yet Johnson cited the energy bill signed just that morning as the principal basis for his veto of state action.

“There will be a growing chorus from Congress, his own employees and the public for Johnson to step down,” Ruch said.

The ranking Republican member of the committee, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, will not join that chorus.

Inhofe supports denial of the waiver, he said today. “When we focus on the substance of the debate, it seems clear to me that the waiver petition should be denied, and I encourage Administrator Johnson to formally make a final decision to do so.”

“In every instance when California was granted a waiver in the past, it was to address “compelling and extraordinary conditions” in the State. And that is the standard, as clearly spelled out in 209(b) of the Clean air Act,” said Inhofe. “Tell me how California differs from other States when it comes to global warming? Carbon is a global issue, not a local one. In that regard, California is ordinary, not extraordinary.”

“In fact, I think it is certainly relevant that California cannot show harm from global warming over the last two decades because temperatures there have been declining, not increasing, as this chart shows,” said Inhofe, a long-standing climate change skeptic.

California also will not bear the burden of implementing the Clean Car law, that would be born by other states, said Inhofe. “My own state of Oklahoma has 27,000 auto related jobs. Of course, that is dwarfed by states like Michigan. In comparison, in addition to Michigan, states represented on this Committee such as Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee have two to six times as many.”

But not all Republican senators agree with Inhofe. Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, support legislation to reverse the waiver decision.

Senator Snowe said, “I am deeply disappointed that the sdministration failed to follow the statute outlined in the Clean Air Act that allows California to adopt distinct environmental laws. This is a setback for Maine and as well as our national environmental stewardship.”

“Although I am confident that the court system will ultimately overturn this decision, I am troubled that this administration has unnecessarily delayed enactment of a strong curtailment of greenhouse gas emissions,” Snowe said. “This legislation will allow the states to move forward with enacting strong reductions in green house gas emissions filling the void of federal action.”

Senator Collins said, “Climate change is one of the most daunting challenges we face and we must develop reasonable solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If states, like my home state of Maine, establish reasonable standards to help address this serious problem, the federal government should not stand in the way.”

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