Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has been foiled in her attempt to obtain and make public a U.S. EPA document on the legal basis for regulating greenhouse gases, thanks to Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee that she chairs.

The document in question is an endangerment finding that the White House refused to accept when the EPA emailed it to the Office of Management and Budget in December 2007. EPA staffers have said that their findings — that global warming poses significant threats to human health and welfare, and that greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act — were rejected by the OMB, which declined to even open the email containing the document.

Earlier this week, former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason Burnett testified to Boxer’s EPW committee that the White House feared the agency’s conclusions would force the administration to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions — not a legacy it wants to leave behind. The White House has been blocking public release of the document.

Boxer convened her committee this morning to vote on whether to issue a subpoena for the document, but Republicans on the committee boycotted, depriving Boxer of the two GOP votes she would have needed to push the subpoena through.

EPW committee members and their staffs were allowed to view a copy of the document last night and take notes. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, had also been permitted to view a copy a few weeks ago. According to reports from those who saw it, the document showed that the EPA’s experts and EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson came to the conclusion that climate change is a major threat and thus the federal government should regulate greenhouse gases. That’s a far cry from what the Bush administration has said publicly. Rather than finalize regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions, Johnson announced on July 11 that the administration was seeking additional months of public comment on its rule-making notice, effectively running out the clock on Bush’s presidency.

“The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency concludes in this document that there is an endangerment to the American people based on the strongest possible evidence,” said Boxer, according her prepared remarks for this morning’s meeting. “It is clear. It is chilling. It is detailed. In this document, in EPA’s own words, we see that the law is clear, that the scientific evidence is sufficient, and that we must act.”

Boxer released several excerpts of the document that her staff recorded last night , highlighting the conclusions reached by Johnson:

• “The Administrator believes that there is compelling and robust evidence that observed climate change can be attributed to the heating effect caused by global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.”

• “Based on the evidence before him, the Administrator believes it is reasonable to conclude current and future emissions of greenhouse gases will contribute to future climate change.”

• “The Administrator is aware that the range of potential impacts that can result from climate change spans many elements of the global environment, and that all regions of the U.S. will be affected in some way.”

• “The U.S. has a long and populous coastline. Sea level rise will continue, and exacerbate storm surge flooding and shoreline erosion.”

• “In areas where heat waves already occur, they are expected to be more intense, more frequent, and longer- lasting.”

• “Wildfires and the wildfire season are already increasing and climate change is expected to continue to worsen the conditions that facilitate wildfires.”

• “Where water resources are already scarce and over allocated in the Western U.S., climate change is expected to put additional strain on these water management issues for municipal, agricultural, energy and industrial uses.”

• “Climate change also introduces additional stress on ecosystems which are already affected by development, habitat fragmentation, and broken ecological dynamics.”

• “In sum, the Administrator is proposing to find that elevated levels of GHG concentrations may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public welfare.”

Boxer also announced today that she and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had called Johnson to testify before Leahy’s committee at a July 30 hearing entitled “Is the White House Interfering with EPA and Impeding Congressional Oversight?” According to Boxer’s office, Johnson turned down that invitation.