Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Jason Burnett, the former associate deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency who resigned last month over the Bush administration’s unwillingness to address greenhouse-gas emissions, provided more details to a Senate panel Tuesday about how top White House officials worked to quash new regulations on greenhouse gases.

Appearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Burnett shared with senators some of the behind-the-scenes negotiations that took place regarding the agency’s response to Massachusetts v. EPA and the decision to deny California a waiver to set higher automobile emissions standards.

Burnett said EPA officials — including Administrator Stephen Johnson — told the Bush administration that California officials should be permitted to establish air-quality standards on their own. Johnson supported a partial waiver for several years, but President Bush rejected his suggestions, arguing that he wanted a “single, national standard.”

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Burnett also testified that the EPA’s experts, acting in response to the Supreme Court’s direction from April 2007, agreed last December that greenhouse gases were a risk to human health and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. But as Burnett had told Grist previously, the administration decided to ignore those findings and instead extend the period of public comment on their rulemaking proposal.

“The concern was that moving forward would mean an increase in regulation, and that was not something that this president wanted to have associated with him,” said Burnett.

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Burnett pointed fingers at today’s hearing, saying it was White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joel Kaplan who asked that he send a followup note indicating that the agency’s email containing the human health finding had been sent to the Office of Management and Budget in error.

He also said that Jeffrey Rosen, general counsel at OMB, had asked on multiple occasions whether it would be possible to somehow define emissions from automobiles as different from those emitted by power plants. It was “somewhat embarrassing for me to ask my colleagues to again explain that CO2 is a molecule,” said Burnett.

EPW Committee Chair Barbara Boxer said the panel will hold a business meeting on Thursday morning to vote on whether to issue a subpoena for the EPA document. Her committee has been after the document for some time. The House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming was allowed to see a copy of the draft and take notes last month, but Boxer says she wants to be able to make the document public. In order to issue the subpoena, however, she’ll have to get the votes of at least eight Democratic committee members and two Republicans.