The Bush administration finally responded today to the Supreme Court ruling on global warming -- the case the Bush administration lost nearly a year ago. Unfortunately, the response is a blatant stall tactic cooked up by reactionary groups like the Heritage Foundation.
The EPA is about to decide if national health standards for smog should be made tougher. What's at stake is the quality of the air we breathe. The EPA's independent science advisers unanimously think the standards should be made tougher. So do the EPA's career experts. So do lung doctors and many other medical groups. But big polluters are putting on a smog squeeze. They want the White House to keep the existing standards. And they are urging the Bush administration to break the law by considering costs (code for politics) instead of science. The EPA is under a court order to make a decision by March 12. Spokespeople from the American Lung Association, Clean Air Watch, Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Association of Clean Air Agencies are planning a briefing Thursday, March 6, at 12:00 p.m. EST. Call-in Information: 1-888-206-2266 Pin: #244448#
After more than two months, the Bush administration today finally articulated its legal case for rejecting California's greenhouse-gas standards for motor vehicles. The argument is here. It reads like something written up in the boardroom of General Motors or a law firm working for car companies. It even cites arguments made by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers as justification for the decision! It's a phony argument designed to protect the auto industry -- and it's typical of the Bush administration to dump out bad news like this on a Friday to minimize media coverage.
No, you couldn't make this one up. It's a meeting, starting Sunday, of hundreds of "scientists" and propagandists, convening to denounce the proposition that global warming is real. It's like a gathering of the Flat Earth Society. Or, since this meeting literally is taking place on Broadway, it recalls the great Preston Jones play, The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia, which did run briefly on Broadway.
It is now less than four weeks until the EPA announces its decision on whether to change current national standards for ozone or smog. And things are getting very interesting behind the scenes. Officially, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget website, the EPA has not yet transmitted its plan to the White House for review. The truth is, the EPA is obviously being picked at by the OMB already. The Bush administration is just trying to keep the details of this matter as secret as possible. (Some business lobbyists have heard that the EPA is pushing a tougher new standard, though weaker than that recommended by their science advisers.) Despite the efforts at secrecy, some information is creeping out as EPA puts information in its official regulatory docket. (You can see this for yourself here by searching for docket number EPA-HQ-OAR-2005-0172. )
As Grist readers know, today a federal judge struck down the EPA's controversial mercury cap-and-trade system. The decision (PDF) is just the latest in a series of successful court challenges to pro-industry Bush environmental rules. This did not come as a shock. It has been commonly assumed in D.C. that the Bush administration's attempt to pretend that mercury is not toxic when it comes out of a power plant smokestack would be judged illegal. Despite this decision, however, mercury cleanup will continue to languish, because the Bush crowd will continue foot dragging. Their gambit bought the industry an extra five years, at least. The decision is a strong argument for Congress to step in and pass the power plant legislation introduced by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware.
Some very respected researchers today have lobbed a real bombshell into the energy public policy world: they have concluded that ethanol produced both by corn and switchgrass could worsen global warming. In other words, Congress really blew it last year when it mandated a massive increase in biofuels (an action coated with green language but really an effort by both political parties to cater to farm states). This is also a slap at President Bush's effort to paint himself as something other than an oil man. The new findings, led by separate teams from Princeton University and the University of Minnesota conclude that the land use-based greenhouse gas emissions would overwhelm possible emission reductions.
Score one round this morning for Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Waxman's panel is among those investigating the Bush administration's decision -- contrary to EPA staff advice -- to reject California's greenhouse-gas standards for vehicles. He wants to interview seven key EPA staffers without the presence of government lawyers, who would be expected to interfere with the questioning. The Bush administration has been balking at this request, so Waxman was preparing to ask his committee to vote today to issue subpoenas. But the Bush administration blinked -- at least a little. Waxman announced at a committee meeting this morning that he was postponing a subpoena vote for now, because the Bush administration had agreed to permit two of the seven EPA staffers to be interviewed without government lawyers present. The fate of the other five EPA staffers remains under negotiation. This investigation is a little like peeling away layers of a foul-smelling onion: the stench at the center is enough to make one cry.
There's a great deal of buzz in D.C. right now over the prospects of the Lieberman-Warner climate bill. A major environmental group (Environmental Defense) is running radio spots urging congressional passage this year, while a key Lieberman aide has been quoted as saying that the already compromised bill is open for further compromise (if that will get more votes). One issue up for discussion is preemption -- that is, taking away the right of states to limit greenhouse gases. With that in mind, it might make sense to consider the views of a genuine eco-battler, my friend Dan Becker, long a Sierra Club activist who waged an often lonely war for years to improve federal fuel economy (CAFE) standards.