Boxer to grill EPA chief on greenhouse gas ruling

This from CQPolitics:

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson was urged by his staff to allow California to set greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles, even though he ultimately decided to block the regulations, according to documents obtained by the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she plans to grill Johnson about his decision at a hearing Wednesday on the EPA’s proposed fiscal 2009 budget.

“The people in the agency who were charged with advising administrator Johnson were very, very clear that this waiver should be signed,” Boxer said.

Johnson announced late last year that he would not grant a waiver to allow California to implement a state-level global warming program. California’s regulations would set fuel economy standards for vehicles stricter than those in force at the federal level. Numerous other states have indicated they would adopt identical regulations if California were allowed to move forward.

Boxer has introduced legislation to require the EPA to allow the state emission standards. She plans to move the bill if she can obtain 60 votes to overcome a filibuster on the floor. States have also filed a lawsuit against the EPA.

In the meantime, Boxer is requesting documents from the agency on the background behind Johnson’s decision. One presentation from October is a strong recommendation from EPA staff that the waiver should be granted. The document was prepared by Christopher Grundler, deputy director at the Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must allow California to set its own pollution standards for vehicles unless the state standards are found to be arbitrary and capricious, are unnecessary to meet “compelling and extraordinary” environmental conditions, or are otherwise inconsistent with the federal anti-pollution law.

As a compromise, the staffer suggested the EPA could grant the waiver for three years and then defer it for subsequent years. This was described as a “grand bargain” that would put the EPA “in the driver’s seat to craft a national solution.”

Boxer says the documents, excerpted on her committee’s Web site, “paint a picture of an Environmental Protection Agency in crisis. They show the dedicated professional staff of the EPA working hard to do what they are paid to do by the American people — protect our health and our environment. At the same time, we see more and more evidence of Administrator Johnson ignoring the science and the facts, and discarding the advice of his professional staff.

“I believe this decision will be reversed by the next President or by the courts, but the Administrator can save the taxpayers time and money, and can get us started cleaning up our air if he would simply follow the law, the facts, and the advice of his agency professionals.”

Here’s a video of her news conference:

Are we looking forward to hearing this testimony tomorrow? Oh yes, yes we are.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.