Last December, Stephen Johnson of the EPA denied California's request to set its own emissions and fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. Under an exception to the Clean Air Act, California may set its own standards, and other states may follow them, as long as the state standards are approved by the EPA. Now it appears that Johnson was ready to approve California's standards until the White House interfered with the decision. The news comes as a result of an EPA official's testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Under the Clean Air Act, EPA can reject a waiver only if the administrator finds California's request falls short of one of several criteria. One of them is that the state doesn't need the standards "to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions."The accusation of tampering will not be news to anyone who has followed this administration's approach to environmental policy. There has been a long pattern of delay, obfuscation, and interference when a decision could impact corporate interests, whether the decision involves greenhouse gases, wildlife protection, or public health. The situation is so egregious that unlikely allies are starting to band together in opposition to the administration's policies.
Johnson has said there was nothing unique about California's situation that supported issuing the waiver. He testified in previous congressional hearings that he alone made the decision.
The memo said that Burnett, who is EPA's associate deputy administrator, told the committee that in the late summer and early fall of 2007: "I was under the general impression that the administrator was very interested in a full grant of the waiver."
Burnett said that Johnson also wanted him to explore a middle-ground option between a full grant of the petition and a denial. "I think that the level of his interest increased. . . following the various meetings that we had both within the agency and within other parts of the executive branch."
Burnett said that he and everyone else at EPA who gave opinions about the decision recommended a full grant of the waiver.
He said that Johnson told him why he changed his mind, but Burnett did not answer when asked what the reason was.