Overview of EPA Investigations

Posted by Wonk Room Thu, 08 May 2008 21:10:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

The scheduled Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing today on White House interference with ozone standards has been the hearing has been postponed because EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson refused to appear:
EPA officials say Johnson had a “recurrence of ongoing back issues stemming from a car accident years ago.”

Below is the current status of a number of EPA scandals Congress is expecting Administrator Johnson to answer for:

Democratic Leadership Struggling to Move Forward with Renewable Tax Package

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 08 May 2008 21:08:00 GMT

On Wednesday, House leadership told reporters that they are having another go at an extension of the renewable and energy-efficiency tax credits that has been stalled since last year. From E&E News:
The House Ways and Means Committee will likely take up the new package next week and will bring it to the floor sometime before Memorial Day, Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) told reporters yesterday. The renewable energy package will be part of a broader multibillion dollar package of “tax extenders” for various items that are set to expire this year.

“Before the Memorial Day break, we will be bringing to the floor a comprehensive energy tax package that promotes research and development and promotes efficiency,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday. “The resources are there, the motivation is real, and I think they have reached some level of agreement with the Senate,” she added.

Sen. Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has included the renewable tax credits with a package that would also extend tax credits against the Alternative Minimum Tax, the Alternative Minimum Tax and Extenders Tax Relief Act of 2008 (S. 2886).

Neither effort provides funding mechanisms.

Who Fired Mary Gade? 1

Posted by Wonk Room Tue, 06 May 2008 17:42:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

Mary Gade, the Region 5 Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, abruptly resigned in the midst of a battle with Dow Chemical over its refusal to clean up decades-old dioxin pollution from its headquarters in Michigan. As Michael Hawthorne reported in the Chicago Tribune:
Gade told the Tribune she resigned after two aides to national EPA administrator Stephen Johnson took away her powers as regional administrator and told her to quit or be fired by June 1.
He further reported that one of those officials had recently assessed her performance as “outstanding”:
Five months ago, a top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official gave Mary Gade a performance rating of “outstanding.” On Thursday, the same official told her to quit or be fired as the agency’s top regulator in the Midwest.

The regional administrators report directly to the office of EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. So who can the “two aides to national EPA administrator Stephen Johnson” who “took away her powers” be? The following are the most likely suspects:

Responses to Voinovich Climate Bill 1

Posted by Wonk Room Fri, 02 May 2008 20:05:00 GMT

Responses to Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio)’s draft climate legislation.

As E&E News reports, Sen. Voinovich is designing his bill “with input from several industry groups, including the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, the National Manufacturers Association, the Edison Electric Institute and the American Chemistry Council.”
The Washington office of Bracewell & Giuliani, a law firm that includes President Bush’s first-term U.S. EPA air pollution chief, Jeff Holmstead, and Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, also helped write the legislation.

EDF:

Ohio Senator George Voinovich today proposed to address the rapidly escalating threat of climate change by delaying meaningful federal action to control greenhouse gas emissions, obstructing existing state programs, and allowing U.S. global warming pollution to increase for decades to come.

“This proposal can be summed up in one word: bankrupt,” said Steve Cochran, national climate campaign director at Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s a detailed prescription for doing nothing. If you think climate change is a hoax, this is your bill.”

Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation:
The bill to nowhere.

Friends of the Earth:

This phony bill would not require mandatory reductions in global warming pollution. It’s Bush reincarnated—a repeat of the do-nothing policies of the last eight years, and an attempt to provide pollution-supporting senators a way to appear as though they are addressing global warming without actually doing so. Global warming threatens to create unprecedented food and water shortages in the coming decades, causing massive loss of life and social and political instability around the world. Any attempt, such as this, to block progress in this fight and prevent America from being a clean energy leader is repugnant and immoral. Voters are not going to be fooled. Any senator who votes for such sham legislation will answer for it at the ballot box.

Sen. Whitehouse Compares EPA Firing To U.S. Attorney Scandal: 'Déjà Vu All Over Again'

Posted by Wonk Room Fri, 02 May 2008 17:41:00 GMT

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency dismissed Midwest regional administrator Mary Gade, one of ten such officials appointed directly by EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. Gade, a lifelong Republican and a prominent supporter of George W. Bush’s pursuit of the presidency in 2000, told the Chicago Tribune, “There’s no question this is about Dow.” Gade was locked in a battle with Dow Chemical over the cleanup of dioxin poisoning from its world headquarters in Michigan. As former EPA official Robert Sussman writes in the Wonk Room, “To remove a Regional Administrator because of a disagreement over policy at an individual site is unheard of.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) just spoke on the Senate floor about Gade’s firing. Whitehouse compared her firing with the U.S. Attorney scandal that enveloped the Department of Justice and led to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s resignation:
We do not yet know all the details of Ms. Gade’s firing, or everything that may have gone on between her office and Dow Chemical. But from everything that we’ve heard and seen so far, it looks like déjà vu all over again. From an administration that values compliance with its political agenda more than it values the trust or the best interests of the American people. Last year we learned that this is an administration that wouldn’t hesitate to fire capable federal prosecutors when they wouldn’t toe an improper party line. Today it seems that the Bush Administration might have once again removed a highly qualified and well-regarded official whose only misstep was to disagree with the political bosses.

Watch it:

Sen. Whitehouse also announced that he is conducting an oversight hearing into the politicization of the EPA and the circumstances of Gade’s dismissal next Wednesday. The last time EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson testified before Sen. Whitehouse, he put in a shameful performance, leading Whitehouse to state:

In my short time in Washington, I didn’t think I would again encounter a witness as evasive and unresponsive as Alberto Gonzales was during our investigation of the U.S. Attorney scandal. Unfortunately, today EPA Administrator Johnson stooped to that low standard.

EPA Dances Around Request to Curb Greenhouse Gases from Refineries

Posted by Warming Law Thu, 01 May 2008 13:20:00 GMT

E&E News (subscription req.) is reporting that the EPA—responding to a court order—has issued new regulations to reduce air pollution from petroleum refineries. But there’s a catch: EPA also has denied environmental groups’ request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the refineries, and in so doing, stands accused of dramatically reinterpreting the Clean Air Act:

EPA explained that it was working on a new global warming policy in response to last year’s loss in the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA—a case that started when the Bush administration denied a petition to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

The agency also opened itself up to controversy today by saying it did not need to set any greenhouse gas limits for the industry now because it previously had opted against establishing such standards.

Environmentalists said they plan to sue EPA in federal appeals court over that reasoning. "It’s enormous," said David Bookbinder, an attorney at the Sierra Club. "They’re taking the position the agency has no obligation to look at or review any other pollutant."

Bookbinder said he was not surprised by EPA’s decision, adding that he did not expect the issue to be resolved until after the Bush administration leaves office. "I don’t want these chuckleheads writing the regulations for CO2," he said. "What scares me is the chunk of collateral damage done to the Clean Air Act." 

EPA’s response to the public comments, filed by the Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project, is explained between pages 92 and 104 of the new rule. We’re first taking a close look at EPA’s wording ourselves, and will chime in with further comments as needed.

But as a matter of simple analysis, it does behoove us to note that this is far from first time that EPA has used its own unreasonable delay on the Supreme Court’s Mass. v. EPA mandate as an excuse…

OMB Uses Misleading Appeal to 'Deliberative Process Privilege' to Shield EPA Corruption 1

Posted by Wonk Room Wed, 30 Apr 2008 16:41:00 GMT

Not only is the corruption of the IRIS process a clear example of the Bush administration’s politicization of the EPA, it is also emblematic of its pursuit to raise the Executive Branch above the law.

The OMB’s Kevin Neyland argued vociferously that all “interagency deliberations” should be shielded from any scrutiny because “these documents are covered by the deliberative process privilege.” Neyland cited the Freedom of Information Act, NLRB vs. Sears, Roebuck & Co., and EPA vs. Mink, to conclude: “accordingly, protection of internal Executive Branch communications is not ‘inconsistent with the principle of sound science.’”

John B. Stephenson, the GAO’s director of natural resources and environmental issues, explained to the Washington Post that “transparency in the risk assessment process is the cornerstone of sound science.” In his report, Stephenson shot down the OMB’s defense in no uncertain terms:
Contrary to OMB’s assertion, the report specifically acknowledges that OMB considers the documents at issue to be protected from disclosure because of their deliberative nature. Moreover, OMB’s assertions concerning the deliberative process privilege are misleading and illogical. That is, OMB’s comments fail to note that the deliberative process privilege protects internal and interagency communications from judicially compelled disclosure, an issue irrelevant to our report. The privilege in no way prevents agencies from voluntarily disclosing such information. OMB is thus arguing that because the scientific comments at issue might generally be protected from discovery in civil litigation, refusal to disclose them voluntarily in this specific context is necessarily consistent with the principles of sound science. OMB provides no citation or other support for this conflation of judicial and scientific procedures.

Stephenson concludes, “OMB fails to explain why certain scientific views should be given added consideration and protected from the critical scientific scrutiny all other comments will receive simply because the reviewers providing the comments are federal employees.”

EPA Toxic Assessment Process Hobbled By Politicization And Secrecy

Posted by Wonk Room Wed, 30 Apr 2008 16:32:00 GMT

From the Wonk Room.

Yesterday, yet more information about the politicization of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came to light as the result of a congressional investigation.

One of the responsibilities of the EPA is to protect Americans from exposure to toxic chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, and death when found in air, food, or water—such as Alar, chlordane, formaldehyde, and malathion. Since 1985 the EPA has placed its scientific risk assessments of such chemicals into a database called the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). In a contentious oversight hearing yesterday, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) made public a damning report that exposed how the “assessments are being undermined by secrecy and White House involvement.”

Before Stephen L. Johnson became administrator in 2005, the assessment process was a straightforward one run by the staff scientists of the EPA:
IRIS Procedure Before Stephen Johnson
IRIS procedure before 2004
Even so, the IRIS assessment program was slow and deliberative, with fewer than 15 full-time staff and under 10 assessments completed each year from 2000 to 2004. But in 2004, the process was changed to give the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) oversight of the program:
Current IRIS Procedure
IRIS procedure now
Although IRIS staff has quadrupled, productivity has collapsed. In fiscal 2006 and 2007, only two assessments were completed. The current process gives OMB control over IRIS assessments—the GAO found the OMB aborted five assessments in 2006 without explanation. Other federal agencies such as the Departments of Defense and Energy – who “are among the biggest contributors to toxic Superfund sites” – can interfere with the assessment in complete secrecy and add years of delay. On April 10, the EPA announced it would be further changing the process to institutionalize this complete takeover of scientific procedure:
Proposed IRIS Procedure
proposed IRIS procedure

In the words of Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group, “With these rules in place, it’s now official: The Bush White House is where all good public health protections go to die.”

Given Another Week, Farm Bill Negotiators Close in on a Deal

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 25 Apr 2008 20:23:00 GMT

The Senate-House conference committee tasked with hammering out the five-year farm bill (H.R. 2419) had an original deadline of April 18 that was extended until today. After marathon sessions all week, negotiators have come close enough to a final package to give leadership confidence to grant a further one-week extension to next Friday, May 2.

Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer said Bush would veto the farm bill if funding for the farm bill came from a requirement that stock brokers and mutual funds report the cost basis of securities sold by their clients, a tax loophole closure that was estimated to value $6.2 billion and was favored by House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.). Negotiators decided not to test the veto and will instead raise funding through customs user fees.

Allison Winter for E&E News describes the deal:
The new framework for the bill includes a $4 billion boost above the current baseline for conservation programs, $10.3 billion in new spending on nutrition and new tax incentives for the timber and cellulosic ethanol industries. Crop subsidies and a proposed disaster relief program took the brunt of the spending cuts to offset the new spending, lawmakers said.
Catharine Richert reports for CQ Today:
House and Senate conferees have struck a long-awaited deal on the new farm bill.

The measure (HR 2419) will be worth about $570 billion over 10 years, with new funding for farm-related tax credits, a disaster aid program, and new funding for food stamps.

Those programs will in part be paid for by a $400 million cut to direct payments — a subsidy farmers get based on their acreage and the type of crop they grow — and a $250 million cut to a $4 billion disaster-aid fund.

But most of the offsets for the extra spending will come from extending customs user fees, a revenue-raiser favored by the Bush administration.

Nutrition programs would get a significant boost. Food stamps and food aid would top out at about $10.2 billion, up from an initial proposal of $9.5 billion.

Over the weekend, lawmakers will continue their discussions about preventing very wealthy farmers from collecting government subsidies. The conferees say they will have a conference report ready for House and Senate floor action by Monday.

Voinovich Drafting Climate Counter-Proposal 1

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 25 Apr 2008 13:38:00 GMT

Darren Samuelson of E&E News reports that Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), with assistance from the White House, is working on a legislative alternative to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 2191). The version of the plan that E&E News acquired included:
  • Voluntary goals of 2006-level emissions by 2020 and 1990 levels by 2030
  • Tax incentives for advanced coal and nuclear power
  • A “backstop” cap-and-trade program

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report outlined the need for industrialized nations to achieve reductions of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020, targets the Annex I Kyoto signatories recognized in Bali.

From E&E News:
On the other side of the climate debate, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) is taking the lead in writing his own climate change bill that could come up as an alternative to the Lieberman-Warner measure.

Sources on and off Capitol Hill started circulating details of Voinovich’s proposal last week. An executive summary of the Voinovich plan obtained yesterday by E&E Daily shows a plan heavy on tax incentives for new energy technologies such as “clean coal” and nuclear power, with a cap-and-trade program used as a backstop if the low- and zero-carbon energy sources do not meet certain milestones.

The summary said those milestones would be to reduce U.S. emissions to 2006 levels by 2020 and 1990 levels by 2030. Voinovich spokesman Chris Paulitz said yesterday that the summary was “well outdated,” though he did confirm the senator was working on alternatives.

“He’s trying to figure out a way to make the environment cleaner that doesn’t kill our economy,” Paulitz said. “Right now, there’s not a bill in the Senate that does those two things.”

Voinovich is getting help from the Bush administration on his climate proposal, as well as others. “We’re working with everybody who we can humanly think of,” Paulitz said. Of the White House, he added, “It’d be silly to exclude a branch of government that would play a key role.”

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