From the Think Progress Wonk Room.
Alberto Gonzales brought disgrace to the Department of Justice as Attorney General, putting loyalty to the President above duty to the country, until the weight of numerous scandals forced his resignation in August 2007. As the New York Times described, he left “a Justice Department that has been tainted by political influence, depleted by the departures of top officials and weakened by sapped morale.”
Now all eyes are turning to Stephen L. Johnson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—set up by President Nixon in 1970 to be an independent watchdog for the health of the environment and the American people. It has become clear that Johnson has subverted that mission, in contravention of science, ethics, and the law. What Gonzales did to Justice, Johnson is doing to the EPA.
On February 27, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) compared Johnson to Gonzales after a shameful performance before Congress. Two days later, unions representing more than 10,000 EPA career staff suspended their relationship with Johnson, citing his “failure to engage in good faith.” Yesterday, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a survey of staff scientists documenting widespread political interference during his tenure.
The most prominent examples of Johnson’s malfeasance are under investigation by Congress – the blatant disregard of the Supreme Court mandate to regulate greenhouse gases and allow states to do so as well, and the overruling of scientific recommendations on smog standards at the behest of President Bush.However, there are numerous further acts exposed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that are running below the radar:
- Refusing to enforce the agency’s “Principles of Scientific Integrity” involving fluoride drinking water standards, organophosphate pesticide registration, and control of mercury emissions from power plants.
- The shuttering of EPA’s network of technical libraries without waiting for Congressional approval in 2006 – to be reopened only with documents that undergo a political review.
- The abandonment of proposed rules protecting children and workers from lead paint in 2004 – rectified this March after years of lawsuits.
- Violating the Endangered Species Act in failing to consider the harmful effects of pesticides on Chinook salmon.
The common thread behind all these actions is service to corporate polluters above public health. PEER has also exposed increasing corporate influence on pesticide labelling, scientific research, assessement of the health risks of new chemicals, and even the drafting of rules to allow testing pesticides on children.
In December, EPA staff privately urged Johnson to resign if he denied the California waiver petition to regulate greenhouse gases. Last month, Sierra Club president Carl Pope called for the resignation of Johnson because “he is entirely a creature of the whim of the President, the vice president, and other White House officials.” Three weeks ago, Friends of the Earth followed suit.
Yesterday, Rep. Waxman sent a letter to Johnson about the UCS report, asking him to “be prepared to respond to its findings” in an Oversight Committee hearing in May.
Rep. Markey has replied to the EPA’s refusal to obey a Global Warming Committee subpoena. In his letter, Markey says the committee is willing to keep confidential any documents turned over until June 21. If the EPA does not agree to this accomodation by 6 PM tomorrow, the “Committee is prepared to proceed with all its legal rights,” including “a vote of contempt” for Johnson.
Yesterday, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) released a document entitled “Principles for Global Warming Legislation,” saying they “are designed to provide a framework for Congress as it produces legislation to establish an economy-wide mandatory program to cut global warming emissions” and that they “will meet the United States’ obligations to curb greenhouse gas emissions and also will provide a pathway to the international cooperation that is necessary to solve the global warming problem.”
The principles are summarized:
The principles include the following elements: strong science-based targets for near-term and long-term emissions reductions; auctioning emissions allowances rather than giving them to polluting industries; investing auction revenues in clean energy technologies; returning auction proceeds to consumers, workers, and communities to offset any economic impacts; and dedicating a portion of auction proceeds to help states, communities, vulnerable developing countries, and ecosystems address harm from the degree of global warming that is now unavoidable.
The specific 14-point elements provide specific language that is more complicated than the above summary. For example:
- The document recognizes that an increase in global temperatures greater than 2°C above pre-industrial levels will bring about “dangerous and irreversible changes to the Earth’s climate” and that the IPCC calls for an industrialized-nation minimum target of 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, but calls for a U.S. target of 100% of 1990 levels.
- The language for scientific lookback provisions would be technically satisfied by Lieberman-Warner’s current provisions (Sec. 7001-7004), which only mandate action by 2020.
- The document does not actually call for full auction of allowances, saying: “If any allocations are given to polluters, they must be provided only to existing facilities for a brief transition period and the quantity must be limited to avoid windfall profits”; no definition of “brief” or “windfall profits” is given
- “Significant” auction revenue should be dedicated to “clean energy and efficiency measures” – “clean energy” is defined as “technologies and practices that are cleaner, cheaper, safer, and faster than conventional technologies.” The document does not distinguish between renewable and non-renewable technologies
- Only clean technology, a priority of Rep. Inslee, is recommended to receive a “significant” portion of auction revenues; however, the document says that auction revenues “sufficient to offset higher energy costs” should go to low- and middle-income households.
The document is written with an eye to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 2191), the cap-and-trade legislation expected to reach the Senate floor in June. In part, this is because the document is expressly focused on cap-and-trade legislation; questions of broader policy (agriculture, transportation, architecture, urban planning, health) are only touched on. Many of the provisions are written in such a way that the language in Lieberman-Warner satisfies them (such as the 2020 target, lookback provisions, call for complementary policies, and most of the auction proceeds language).
Points of difference include the document’s call for 80% reductions from current levels by 2050 (Lieberman-Warner’s 2050 target is estimated to achieve a 62-66% reduction from current levels) and the emphasis on auction rather than allowance giveaways. Lieberman-Warner allocates a significant percentage of allowances for public purposes, giving them to states, tribal governments, federal agencies, and load-serving entities who would then sell the allowances to emitters to use their value; this document emphasizes instead using auction revenues.
In general, the House document is in line with the Sanders-Lautenberg principles, though Sanders-Lautenberg is stronger on the scientific language. However, it is considerably less aggressive than the progressive 1Sky principles. For example, there is no language even hinting at a coal plant moratorium, which has been called for by Reps. Waxman and Markey (H.R. 5575).
The full document of principles is after the jump.
Originally posted at the Think Progress Wonk Room.
In continued defiance of Congressional oversight, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has flatly declined to obey a subpoena from the House Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence. The subpoena for documents relating to the EPA’s refusal to obey the Supreme Court mandate to regulate greenhouse gases was issued by a unanimous, bipartisan vote on April 2, a year after the Supreme Court decision.
On April 11, the EPA requested and received an extension to respond, but today the agency has decided not to turn over the documents:
Whether or not the EPA has “grave concerns” about “erroneous impressions,” a “chilling effect,” and “institutional prerogatives,” these are not legally defensible reasons to defy a Congressional subpoena. In a terse response, Committee chair Ed Markey (D-MA) found the reasoning “unpersuasive.” The letter continues:
Of course, if the EPA simply turned over the documents, it would no longer be under such a “cloud.”
“A long-term extension is totally not acceptable to me,” said House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).A significant matter of dispute is the title that deals with tax incentives:
Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said he plans to plow forward with marathon conference sessions this week, in the hope of reaching enough agreement to justify a short-term extension of current farm programs.
“The best outcome is if by Friday we have this done, but I don’t think that is going to happen,” Harkin told members of the conference committee today. He said he plans to ask for an extension of a “few days.”
The tax package includes incentives for endangered species habitat, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel and residential wind credits, among a host of other provisions. Farm bill conferees on the House side asked members today to strip it, while senators pleaded to keep at least some of the incentives, even if they are pared down.
“We feel like we are being held hostage by the Senate Finance Committee,” said House Agriculture ranking member Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). “We’re concerned about jurisdictional issues and the total amount of money.”
In remarks to reporters after the meeting, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) suggested lawmakers may cut about $1 billion from the tax title.
Yesterday morning, the Senate passed the Ensign-Cantwell clean energy package (S.Amdt 4419) by a vote of 88-8. The package is attached to Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) Foreclosure Prevention Act (S. Amdt 4387 to H.R. 3221), which was approved 84-12.
The future of the energy package now depends on whether the House is willing to consider it a “stimulus” that merits deficit spending.
The eight senators in opposition were Sens. Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bunning (R-Ky.), Byrd (D-W.Va.), Carper (D-Del.), Dodd (D-Conn.), Kyl (R-Ariz.), Sessions (R-Ala.), and Voinovich (R-Ohio). Alexander and Kyl’s alternate version of the package (S. Amdt 4429), which would have extended credits by another year and lowered the wind production credit, died by a 15-79 vote. Dodd had vigorously argued that the renewable tax package was not germane to his housing bill.
Not voting were the three presidential candidates and Sen. Liddy Dole (R-S.C.).
Originally posted at the Think Progress Wonk Room.
In his Senate Environment and Public Works nomination hearing today, David Hill, the Bush nominee for the General Counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was asked by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) what the EPA Administrator should do “if the President of the United States tells him to do something illegal.”
I believe that the courts have held, Senator, that within the unitary executive the administrator and the EPA, just as with all executive agencies, work for the President and are responsible to the President of the United States.
The “unitary executive” theory is a formerly obscure legal argument that asserts “all executive authority must be in the President’s hands, without exception.” Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is a champion of the doctrine, as is Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington.
Boxer’s question was not purely hypothetical. The current administrator of the EPA, Stephen L. Johnson, has overruled his staff’s scientific recommendations on global warming regulations and ozone limits – both apparently at the behest of the White House.
Yesterday, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) issued a subpoena to compel the EPA to turn over documents involving communications with the White House.
The WSJ’s Dana Mattioli reported yesterday afternoon on the latest development in congressional oversight of the EPA’s California waiver decision:
In a letter today, two senior Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform asked the panel’s chairman, Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), to investigate whether top EPA staffers either violated federal rules that restrict regulators from lobbying, or “misused their positions to surreptitiously influence” EPA’s decision on whether to allow California to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from vehicles.
Reps. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) are mad at Margo Oge and Christopher Grundler, the senior EPA officials tasked with evaluating California’s waiver request and (unsuccessfully) telling Administrator Stephen Johnson that he had no choice but to grant it. Congressional oversight of that decision revealed that the pair subsequently provided former EPA Administrator William Reilly—at Reilly’s request—talking points with which to argue the waiver’s merits to Johnson.
Davis and Issa argue that this deserves the same level of scrutiny that Waxman devoted to a surreptitious plan to lobby Congress and governors against the waiver—Johnson may have also been a target, but he could not recall whether that was the case—deployed last summer by Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, White House officials, and industry lobbyists.
This actually isn’t the first time that congressional Republicans have gone after Oge and Grundler. During a hearing that followed the revelation of the Reilly memo and other EPA documents, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) asked Administrator Johnson whether his employees had violated the Hatch Act. Johnson defended their actions, saying that he has "always encouraged my staff to give me candid and open advice" (he just reserves the right to ignore it, even when phrased as a clear mandate and not simply advice, and the resulting fallout severely alienates staff unions).
Rep. Waxman responded to the letter by pledging to give it "careful consideration," while noting that the Committee had "found no evidence that EPA career staff lobbied members of Congress with respect to [California’s request]" (translation: the Davis-Issa analogy to his previous investigation is bunk). For his part, Reilly, who ran EPA under the first President Bush and granted California several waivers, has said that his communications with career staff who served under him were not unprecedented, let alone improper or illegal.
The Senate is meeting this afternoon to resume consideration of Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) Foreclosure Prevention Act (S. Amdt 4387 to H.R. 3221).
On the docket for consideration today is the Ensign-Cantwell amendment (S.Amdt 4419), the latest attempt by Congress to continue renewable and energy efficiency tax incentives due to expire this year. The details of the package offered by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) were first reported by Hill Heat last week.
Also up for consideration is Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) and Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) second-degree amendment (S. Amdt 4429), which would extend the tax credits from 2009 to 2011 and tweak the marine energy and trash combustion credits.
CQ reported that Sen. Dodd exploded on the floor last week in opposition to efforts to include extensions of the clean energy tax credits, saying “This is a housing bill! This isn’t a Christmas tree! It’s a housing bill! I’m going to oppose every one of these [unrelated amendments] from here on out.”
Dodd did not note the irony that the housing package is being considered as a completely unrelated replacement substitute to the House’s Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act (H.R. 3221), which would have rolled back tax breaks for oil companies in order to pay for the renewable tax incentives (and has been blocked repeatedly in the Senate, most recently in February). The Ensign-Cantwell amendment does not provide any funding mechanism for the tax credit continuation, and would violate pay-go rules. The Alexander-Kyl amendment would exacerbate the funding problem.
Reports from Kansas this morning indicated that today, state legislators would attempt to overturn October’s denial of construction permits for two coal-fired power plants by the administration of Governor Kathleen Sebelius—which has cited concern over global warming impacts and a desire to move instead toward clean energy solutions. (UPDATE: Literally just as we were publishing this post, the bill fell short of a veto-proof majority by a single vote.) Sebelius recently vetoed similar legislation, which would also significantly amend state anti-pollution law to strip regulators of the ability to factor in CO2 emissions, instead tethering their authority to the federal government’s position on GHG-related harm. Legislative supporters have laden their efforts with a handful of green-friendly provisions in order to
greenwash their intentions dub the bill a "compromise," and claimed to have finally lined up enough support to override the governor, "unless someone lied to [House Speaker Melvin Neufeld]."
It’s painfully ironic that Kansas might move the ball into the EPA’s court, given the past week’s news, and considering that state officials recently told Congress that the Bush administration’s intransigence has helped bring about this fiasco. Our earlier favorable comparison between KS environmental honcho Roderick Bremby and EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson is also amplified by their divergent reactions to the hot seat: the former has publicly defended his decision, while the latter has infamously decided to dodge congressional testimony and subpoenas in Australia.
Finally, it bears mention that the full might of the anti-climate-regulation/denialist machine has been brought to bear on this issue (who can forget the infamous Ahmadiejad/Chavez/Putin ads?). An overwrought editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal—not that there’s any other kind from them on this topic, as Solve Climate has assiduously documented—accuses Sebelius of acting as though she were opposing "crimes against humanity" for daring to mention the moral implications of climate change (much in the same way the Supreme Court has). The current legislation was also greeted by an onslaught of Washington lobbyists testifying on its behalf, including former EPA official turned "Dirty Rotten Scoundrel" Bill Wehrum and born-again consumer-safety advocate Grover Norquist.
Originally posted at the Think Progress Wonk Room.
Bank of America CEO Kenneth D. Lewis received two utterly different awards from environmental groups on Tuesday, April 1—the Energy Action Coalition and Rainforest Action Network (RAN) voted him the “Fossil Fool of the Year,” while the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) honored him at their annual fundraising gala as a “Force for Nature.”
Rebecca Tarbotton of RAN said, “Ken Lewis faced a who’s who list of polluters, but voters deemed him the worst of a very deserving crop.”
Frances Beinecke of NRDC said, “We have the know-how to beat global warming. What we need is the leadership to make it happen, and Ken Lewis is providing that leadership.”
Climate and environmental activists celebrated “Fossil Fools Day” yesterday, April 1, with actions across the globe protesting the fossil fuel industry. Heeding Al Gore’s call for “young people to engage in peaceful protests to block major new carbon sources,” they blockaded coal mines, coal plants, and energy company headquarters.
As part of the day of action, the Energy Action Coalition dedicated the Fossil Fools Awards to “the world’s biggest contributors to our global addiction to fossil fuels.” Kenneth Lewis won top honors for facilitating “nearly $1 billion in loans to Massey Energy and Arch Coal, two of the largest companies involved in the environmentally devastating process of mountaintop removal coal mining” in the last few years. Bank of America also made several billion dollars in loans and facilitated stock offerings in 2006 for Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company.
NRDC’s tenth annual “Forces for Nature” $1000-a-plate fundraising gala feted Ken Lewis and NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg at Cipriani 42nd Street.
NRDC honored Lewis for Bank of America’s ten-year, $20 billion environmental initiative which “addresses climate change by championing sustainable business practices through innovative lending and investing strategies, new financial products and services and operations.” The initiative was launched last year. The new Bank of America Tower in New York City, when completed in 2009, will be one of the most environmentally friendly and efficient office buildings in the world.
At the NRDC gala, Lewis made the major announcement that Bank of America would adopt the Carbon Principles, “a set of guidelines that help advisors and lenders to power companies evaluate and address carbon risks in the financing of projects” drafted in January by Citigroup Inc., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., and Morgan Stanley. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the ‘Principles’ push utilities to explore other alternatives to regular coal plants . . . Still, the banks make clear they won’t stop funding all conventional coal plants—they’ll simply want assurances higher rates will cover likely costs of carbon.”