Reporting in the L.A. Times, Janet Wilson confirms (as Juliet Eilperin did earlier) that EPA staff unanimously recommended granting California’s waiver, and that they were shut out of the final decision:

[EPA staff] advised him to either grant the waiver outright or give California a temporary one for three years.

Instead, three sources said, Johnson cut off any consultation with his technical staff for the last month and made his decision before having them write the formal, legal justification for it.

"It’s very highly unusual," said one source with close ties to the agency.

Normally the technical staff would be part of the final decision-making process, including briefing the administrator and writing the formal legal document before his decision. In this case, the briefings were done, but the formal finding has yet to be drafted.

EPA staff also suspect Cheney is behind this (and really, at this point isn’t that the obvious default assumption?):

Some staff members believe Johnson made his decision after auto executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney and after a Chrysler executive delivered a letter to the White House outlining why neither California nor the EPA should be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases, among other reasons. The Detroit News reported Wednesday that chief executives of Ford and Chrysler met with Cheney last month.

"Clearly the White House said, ‘We’re going to get EPA out of the way and get California out of the way. If you give us this energy bill, then we’re done, the deal is done,’" said one staffer.

Elsewhere in the LAT, David Savage says that while Cali’s legal case against EPA is quite strong, it will be waged in D.C. Circuit Court, which is heavily stacked with ideological Bush appointees (9 of 13 judges were appointed by Republicans). If Cali loses there, it can appeal up to the Supreme Court, where it will almost certainly win, since this is basically Mass. v. EPA all over again.

Johnson’s transparently political ruling has prompted quite a sh*tstorm, with front page stories on every major newspaper and threats of lawsuits and investigations from Schwarzenegger, Boxer, and Waxman. From today’s press gaggle at the White House, it sounds like they’re ready to hang him out to dry:

Q Under what authority can the President tell California it can’t have tougher global warming levels than the national strategy that he said he wanted?

MR. FRATTO: I mean, the President didn’t tell California that, but the EPA Administrator made his independent decision on whether to approve or not approve that waiver. He made a decision not to approve the California waiver, and as he explained, I think, he made that based on what he thought was best for the nation in addressing this issue. And he pointed to the really significant policy changes that are going to come through from the energy bill that we signed last week.

Q — no longer supports the kind of states’ rights that he did when he was governor?

MR. FRATTO: There’s always a balance. And he does support — he does have a healthy respect for states’ rights. But these decisions need to be made in terms of what is best for the country. We support EPA Administrator Johnson’s decision, but it was his decision to make.

(h/t: LL)

Guess that’s the "responsibility era" for you.