Wednesday, May 21, 2008 | 2:06 a.m.
Public officials in California were understandably infuriated in December when the Environmental Protection Agency denied the state’s request to establish the nation’s toughest law for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, suspected politics influenced the decision and promised to investigate.
The Democratic staff of his committee released a report this week that confirmed Waxman’s suspicion. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson at first supported California’s request, but changed his position after communicating with the White House, the report said.
The report was based on sworn testimony from eight EPA officials and a review of 27,000 agency documents.
Compelling testimony came from EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett, who confirmed Johnson’s original position, which reflected the position of the agency’s staff. Burnett also confirmed that Johnson’s final decision was announced after he had been in contact with White House officials.
“It appears that the White House played a significant role in the reversal of the EPA position,” the report concluded.
Because California was the only state that had begun regulating air quality before President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970, its pollution standards can be more strict than the federal government’s — but only with EPA permission.
If permission is granted, other states can tighten their standards to match California’s. Thirteen of them are prepared to do that, which shows the importance of this issue.
Had California’s request been granted, the auto industry, which lobbied heavily against it, would almost have been forced to meet California’s standard for all of its vehicles.
Johnson’s final decision was consistent with how the Bush administration had been reacting all along to California’s request. It once even laughably argued that the EPA did not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, an argument overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In December, Johnson was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “My decision was an independent decision.” Waxman’s committee should subpoena Johnson and ask him, under oath, if he stands by that statement.