EPA to California: Drop Dead

The Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, Stephen Johnson, won’t be getting many holiday cards from California this year. The ink was barely dry on legislation increasing national fuel-efficiency standards before Johnson announced that the new rules made regional regulatory efforts redundant - and that he was nixing the Golden State’s long-standing plans for tough statewide emissions standards.

Johnson’s move - which affects not just California, but a bloc of 16 other states with similar ambitions - is an example of what the Bush administration does best: ideologically driven policy-making with little regard for the facts or the scientific consensus. In the past few days, it’s become clear that Johnson’s announcement was based not on the merits of the case, but rather on a brazen decision to put the interests of Detroit’s automakers ahead of the global environment.


Under the watchful eye of auto executives and Dick Cheney, Johnson - a Bush appointee - steamrollered aside his own scientific and legal advisers, who had called for California’s plans to be given the green light. In the month leading up to the announcement, he froze out his team; he reached out to them only once the die was already cast, instructing them to concoct a post-facto justification for his decision.

Stunningly, he even chose to ignore advice from his lawyers, who unanimously told him that the EPA had no legal grounds to refuse California’s request - and that the agency would probably be forced to reverse its decision if the case came to court.

That fact, more than anything else, reveals Johnson’s move for what it really is: a spectacularly cynical delaying tactic. With Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other state leaders already preparing for a court battle, Johnson knows there’s little chance that his ruling will remain in place; but he also knows that legal fights take time to run their course.

With California’s clean-air plan calling for new emissions standards to be implemented by 2009, there’s little time to waste; each day that goes by makes it less likely that the Golden State’s environmental strategy will stay on schedule.

That, in turn, reduces both the potential environmental benefit of the scheme - and its potential impact on the automakers’ pocketbooks. Once more, sadly, the EPA has turned its back on its mandate - and chosen instead to side with corporate interests and the Bush administration’s cronies in Detroit.

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