Back in November, the EPA Environmental Appeals Board voted to stop new coal plants cold.

But as the NYT reported Friday, “Officials weighing federal applications by utilities to build new coal-fired power plants cannot consider their greenhouse gas output, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency ruled late Thursday.” (Note to self: Keep repeating, “January 20, January 20, January 20.”)

Now E&ENews PM ($ub. req’d) reports,

The chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asked the Justice Department to force U.S. EPA to withdraw a “blatantly illegal memo” by its administrator saying the agency need not consider greenhouse gas emissions when permitting new coal-fired power plants.

And people say I’m a (technology) optimist! Boxer’s letter is here [PDF]. The article continues:

California Democrat Barbara Boxer is asking Attorney General Michael Mukasey to ensure that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson withdraws the memo to prevent a waste of taxpayer money defending the illegal decision and to make clear that the Bush administration should not spend its last month issuing “midnight rules.”

“This illegal document issued by Stephen Johnson makes it clear that he has become a renegade administrator,” Boxer said in a statement. “Mr. Johnson’s latest action is intended to make the job of combating global warming more difficult and will add to the millions of taxpayer dollars he has wasted in defending his illegal decisions.”

At issue is a document written last week by Johnson in response to an EPA Environmental Appeals Board decision last month ordering the agency to re-examine its decision to grant a Clean Air Act permit to a new coal plant in Uintah County, Utah. The board said that the permit failed to explain why there were no limits on greenhouse gas emissions (Greenwire, Dec. 19).

But Johnson’s memo trumped the board’s decision. Even though EPA has rules requiring electric utilities to monitor and report their greenhouse gas emissions to the federal government, he wrote, those measures don’t require restrictions on actual emissions.

Boxer urged Mukasey to take “swift and decisive action” to ensure that Johnson withdraws the document. “The attorney general has an obligation to intervene when the actions of the administration are so clearly outside the law,” she said. She asked that the attorney general contact her immediately regarding his next steps on the matter.

EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar defended Johnson. “Administrator Johnson’s memo is supported by 30 years of agency actions and provides clarity and consistency to the permitting process,” he said in an e-mail.

Marc Morano, a spokesman for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, also supported the Johnson memo. “It represents sound policy judgment, is consistent with past agency practice, and not precluded by the Clean Air Act,” he said in a statement. “It also further demonstrates why the architecture of the current act was never designed to handle carbon dioxide regulation.”

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said the department would review the letter and respond appropriately.

“Appropriately”? This is the Department that signed off on torture. What the heck is a few coal plants to them? Still, can’t blame Boxer for trying, I suppose.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.