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. )

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In one fascinating email, an OMB staffer named Heidi R. King sought information to support a miniscule change in the current, outmoded smog standard. In other words, the OMB is fishing around for information that would support basically making no change in the current standard.

The EPA docket, by the way, is starting to include some other pretty interesting material. For example, Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) writes to the EPA and appears to endorse the views of the state branch of the odious National Association of Manufacturers. (Shame on you, Herb! This is one of the naughtiest things you’ve done since you fronted for the Briggs & Stratton lawn-mower-engine people when they were fighting against pollution standards.)

Also, the Department of Agriculture doesn’t want the EPA to change the current standard, in part because of the smog problems caused by biofuels (which the Department of Agriculture promotes because its mission is to increase money for farmers.)

Of possible interest, also, is the list of staffers within the Bush administration who have been tasked with reviewing the EPA plan. Our favorite reviewer is one Indur Goklany, who has worked in the past for various polluter-funded alleged think tanks. In fact, just last week the Cato Institute was touting a new report he authored that appears to oppose efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Goklany has also been known to say a kind word or two about the banned chemical DDT.

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Finally (for now), there is an interesting list of people who met personally with EPA Administrator Steve Johnson on the smog issue right before Christmas (as Johnson was preparing his recommendation to share with the White House). One meeting included such heavyweights as Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute, “Governor” John Engler of the National Association of Manufacturers, Dave McCurdy of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and Jack Gerard of the American Chemistry Council. All, presumably, were arguing against tougher standards, as were agricultural interests noted at a separate meeting. These included the Renewable Fuels Association, the Corn Refiners Association, and the National Corn Growers.

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