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EPA Administrator Johnson Denies California Permit, Ignoring Advice of Experts

Posted Aug 26 2008 12:43pm
It's been a big week for governmental policy and the environment. First there was the new energy bill, which I wrote about yesterday . While I'm still not thrilled by it, there do exist compelling arguments for seeing it in a brighter light. As I've said before, policy does not exist in a vacuum , and once the political process of the U.S. Senate is taken into account, the modest gains start to look more like something to quietly applaud rather than fume about.

Today, though, brings unequivocally bad news. Stephen L. Johnson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has denied, against the advice of his own agency's technical and legal experts, California's bid to decide its own greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles. Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post has a detailed article , complete with anonymous quotes from agency staffers. She reveals that EPA's "technical and legal staffs cautioned Johnson against blocking California's tailpipe standards, the sources said, and recommended that he either grant the waiver or authorize it for a three-year period before reassessing it." Their assessment of what would happen if he denied it and the agency was taken to court: "'EPA likely to lose suit . '"

California has, over the past few decades, positioned itself as a leader in reducing the GHG emissions of automobiles. None of its prior petitions to the EPA have ever been denied . Johnson is acting on behest of the forces of the status quo, who, having been forced to give a little ground under the energy bill's increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards , are loathe to cede an inch more. And California's proposed standards are more than a metaphorical inch: they would assess vehicles' entire greenhouse gas emissions, not just the gasoline mileage numbers of CAFE. Greenhouse gas emissions profiles are a more comprehensive and rigorous method of measuring pollution, and, under the new standards, automobiles would reach 36 mpg by 2016, which is better mileage sooner than the new CAFE regulations call for, anyway.

So if you're excited to see your tax dollars paying for lawyers to defenda decision to prevent a state from regulating its own automobiles, a decision that promotes greater emissions of greenhouse gasses and will bring to court cases the government knows it's going to lose anyway, then give a cheer for EPA Administrator Johnson. The rest of us look forward to the day when the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency will allow his or her agency to live up to its name.
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