Juliet Eilperin’s got a really crackerjack story on the California waiver in the WaPo. It’s devastating to Johnson. It also confirms a lot of stuff that I, a mere blogger, could only speculate about irresponsibly.

First of all, the EPA staff was foursquare against this decision:

EPA’s lawyers and policy staff had reached the same conclusion [that the decision is "legally and technically unjustified and indefensible"], said several agency officials familiar with the process. In a PowerPoint presentation prepared for the administrator, aides wrote that if Johnson denied the waiver and California sued, “EPA likely to lose suit.”

If he allowed California to proceed and automakers sued, the staff wrote, “EPA is almost certain to win.”

The 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.

“Nobody told the administration they support [a denial], and it has the most significant legal challenges associated with it,” said one source, in an interview several hours before Johnson’s announcement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak for the agency. “The most appropriate action is to approve the waiver.”

Also, Johnson did in fact pull his figure for Cali’s targets out of his rear:

Johnson said that California standards would produce a mileage average of 33.8 mpg by 2016, while the new federal energy law would require an average fleet fuel economy of 35 mpg by 2020. But California officials said EPA had miscalculated, estimating that its emissions standard would achieve an average of at least 36 mpg by 2016.

This is a first:

California, which is allowed under the Clean Air Act to set its own air pollution policies as long as it obtains an exemption from the federal government, had never been denied a waiver in the law’s 37-year history.

Johnson’s explanation for this historic first? Well, climate change is global — greenhouse gases harm everyone, not just California exclusively. Thus, California cannot to anything to protect itself beyond what the feds allow. In other words, Johnson scarcely bothered to come up with an excuse at all.

Finally, getting Bill Reilly as a source was smart:

William K. Reilly, who served as EPA administrator under President George H.W. Bush and approved nine California waivers during that time, questioned why the administration challenged the state’s historical role as an innovator in air pollution policy.

"What I want to know from the [administration] is: What possible grounds would there possibly be to deny California this waiver?" asked Reilly, who co-chairs the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy, a group of energy experts. "There’s every reason to defer to California in making these decisions."

Poor Stephen Johnson. When he signed up for the job he was just another dutiful staff scientist at EPA. The Bush administration leeched away his credibility and integrity, as it does to all who submit to it. Can you remember an administration with a longer trail of discredited functionaries in its wake?