Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Waxman Exposes Presidential Interference In EPA Rulemaking

May 20: Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform indicates that the Committee's investigation has uncovered details of White House involvement in EPA’s regulation of ozone on the eve of a court imposed deadline, forcing EPA staff to scrap a standard supported by its independent panel and to perform “emergency rewrites” to the regulation. Waxman said, "Documents obtained by the Committee show that EPA staff raised serious concerns about the merits and legality of the decision." Waxman also released extensive documentation on the Committee's investigation of the California waiver request decision (See more below).

On March 12, 2008, at approximately 6 PM, on the court-ordered deadline date, U.S. EPA met its requirements under the Clean Air Act and a court-ordered deadline by signing the new primary 8-hour ozone the final National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) of 0.075 parts per million (ppm) and the new secondary standard at a form and level identical to the primary standard. The previous primary and secondary standards were identical 8-hour standards, set at 0.08 ppm; however, EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) Ozone Panel had unanimously recommended a substantially stronger standard in the range of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm.

Waxman released a 12-page memorandum providing additional information about EPA's revision of the national ambient air quality standards for ozone and said the findings were based on a review of approximately 30,000 pages of previously undisclosed documents received from EPA and the White House Office of Management and Budget, as well as publicly available documents. Many of the documents are posted on the Committee's website. The memo indicates that, "The Committee's investigation shows that the process that led to the new standards was highly unusual, particularly the process of setting the secondary standard. . ."

The memo continues, "Late on March 11, the evening before the court-ordered deadline, EPA was informed that the President had rejected the position of the EPA Administrator and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. This decision set off what one official described as an 'emergency rewrite' to justify setting the secondary standard at the same level as the primary standard, as the White House directed. The final rule dropped the language in the draft that concluded a cumulative, seasonal standard was 'necessary ... to ensure the requisite degree of protection.' In its place, the final rule stated: 'The Administrator ... does not believe that an alternative cumulative, seasonal standard is needed.' The documents show that the EPA staff questioned both the legality and motivation for the last-minute change in the secondary standard . . ."

"The Committee sought to learn the basis for the President's decision to reject the recommendations of the EPA Administrator and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. The White House, however, is withholding hundreds of pages of documents that would explain what happened inside the White House. . . "

On May 20, the Committee held a hearing on, “EPA’s New Ozone Standards.”Witnesses included: Stephen Johnson, EPA Administrator; Susan Dudley, Administrator of OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs; Dr. Rogene Henderson, Chair, Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee; and representatives of the Union Of Concerned Scientists; Natural Resources Defense Council; an Advisor on Toxicology and Human Heath Risk Analysis; and a Partner with the law firm of Sidley Austin, LLP.

In an opening statement, Representative Waxman said, "For months this Committee has been investigating recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decisions relating to both global warming and new air quality standards. And after reviewing nearly 60 thousand pages of internal documents and interviewing officials involved in the rulemakings, we have found evidence that the White House again ignored the facts and the law."

Waxman cites recent instances where the White House intervened in the California waiver petition to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light-duty trucks and then in the NAAQS ozone rulemaking. He said the Committee's investigation revealed that "EPA officials were astounded by the President's decision and said it wasn't supported by either the science or the law." One official wrote: "I have been working on National Ambient Air Quality Standards for over 30 years and have yet to see anything like this."

Waxman said, "The same thing happened in a third critical rulemaking. Last April, the Supreme Court directed EPA to determine whether CO2 emissions endanger health and the environment and must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. . . In each of these rulemakings, the pattern is the same: the President apparently insisted on his judgment and overrode the unanimous recommendations of EPA's scientific and legal experts. Our investigation has not been able to find any evidence that the President based his decisions on the science, the record, or the law. Indeed, there's virtually no credible record of any kind in support of the decisions.

"I recognize and support the broad powers our Constitution vests with the President of the United States. But the President does not have absolute power and he is not above the law. The President may have a personal opinion about the new ozone standards, California's motor vehicle standards, and regulating CO2, but he is not allowed to elevate his view above the requirements of the law."

In a separate release of investigative documents, on May 19, Chairman Waxman posted extensive information on the Committee's investigation of California's request for a waiver to enforce its greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks. Waxman said the new documents and testimony obtained by the Committee show that EPA career staff unanimously supported granting California’s request. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson also supported granting the petition, at least in part, until he communicated with the White House.

According to a 20-page Committee memo on the California waiver decision, "During the course of the investigation, the Committee obtained over 27,000 pages of documents from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and deposed or interviewed eight key officials. This memorandum summarizes some of the significant evidence the Committee has received. The record before the Committee shows: (l) the career staff at EPA unanimously supported granting California's petition; (2) Stephen Johnson, the Administrator of EPA, also supported granting California's petition at least in part; and (3) Administrator Johnson reversed his position after communications with officials in the White House."

Access the May 20 hearing website with links to all testimony and related information (
click here). Access links to the May 20 Ozone memo and extensive related documents (click here). Access links to the May 19 CA waiver memo and extensive related documents (click here). Access various eNewsUSA Blog posts on the Ozone NAAQS issue (click here); and the CA waiver issue (click here). [*Air, *Climate, *Energy]