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:

EPA SCANDALCURRENT STATUS
The denial of the California waiver petition.
  • January 8: California and 15 other states sue to overturn denial.
  • April 9: Waxman issues latest subpoena for documents involving White House.
  • April 22: NHTSA issues fuel-economy standards that it claims preempts state global warming standards; states warn of lawsuit.
Failure to obey Supreme Court mandate to make a global warming pollution endangerment finding.
  • March 27: EPA announces it will ask for a new round of comments.
  • April 2: Officials of 18 states sue to require the EPA to act within 60 days
  • April 2: EPA documents are subpoenaed by House Global Warming Committee; the documents have not been turned over.
  • April 18: Court orders EPA to file its response to the state suit by May 8.
White House interference in ozone standards.
  • April 16: Waxman subpoenas White House documents.
  • May 8: Date of scheduled Oversight Committee hearing with Administrator Johnson; postponed when Johnson refuses to appear.
Mary Gade firing.
  • May 1: EPA Region V Administrator Mary Gade resigns, saying “There’s no question this is about Dow.” Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Dingell (D-MI) announce intent to investigate.
  • May 7: Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington file two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the EPA regarding Gade’s resignation.
Politicization of the EPA.
  • April 23: Union of Concerned Scientists issues survey of 1600 staff scientists describing mass politicization and political interference.
  • April 29: Sen. Boxer (D-CA) releases Goverment Accountability Office report detailing politicization of toxic regulation.
  • May 7: Senate Environment and Public Works Oversight Subcommittee holds hearing into politicization of EPA.

Stephen Johnson, The Environment's Alberto Gonzales

Posted by Wonk Room Thu, 24 Apr 2008 20:37:00 GMT

From the Think Progress Wonk Room.

Stephen Johnson testifies before the House Select Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee

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.

Under Subpoena, EPA Instead Demands Docs From Oversight Committee 1

Posted by Wonk Room Thu, 20 Mar 2008 13:07:00 GMT

Originally posted at the Think Progress Wonk Room.

bush
Under subpoena by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) to turn over documents involving the White House, the EPA instead requested documents from him, in a letter revealed Wednesday by E&E News.

On March 10, House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) kicked off a new round the latest installment in his ongoing investigation of the EPA with a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson:
“I am writing to request that EPA provide to the Oversight Committee documents that the agency has improperly withheld from the Committee…relating to your decision to reject California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

This request includes not only specific documents that EPA eventually turned over in heavily redacted form, but also “hundreds of documents” that involve EPA and the White House that top-level EPA officials told Waxman’s committee are being withheld.

On March 12, Waxman sent a detailed timeline of events to Johnson based on the EPA interviews showing that the EPA’s efforts to regulate CO2 stopped after the White House became involved.

On March 13, Waxman issued a subpoena for 196 of the documents.

The next day, the EPA’s Christopher P. Bliley – who was White House budget director Jim Nussle’s chief of staff when Nussle was in Congress – sent a letter to Waxman, saying that the documents “raise very important Executive Branch confidentiality interests” and that “we need additional time to respond to your request.”

Then he one-upped Waxman, making a document demand of his own:
EPA would also like to request copies of the transcripts from the Committee’s interviews of seven Agency employees.
His reason?
The Agency has an interest in ensuring that the information provided to the Committee by Agency employees in their official capacity is accurate and complete, particularly here where that information appears to be the basis for a new and expansive document request.

In other words, the White House wants to make sure their stories don’t contradict what Waxman already knows.

Needless to say, the EPA does not have oversight or subpoena power over the House of Representatives.

Waxman has also opened an investigation into Bush’s manipulation of the new smog standards issued by the EPA last week.

EPA LETTER (3/14/08) EXCERPTS:

EPA respects your role as Chairman and is committed to providing the Committee information necessary to satisfy its oversight interests to the extent possible and consistent with our Constitutional and statutory obligations. The three documents you are requesting are internal EPA documents that raise very important Executive Branch confidentiality interests. Because of this concern, we need additional time to respond to your request. We plan to further respond by March 20.

[…]

EPA would also like to request copies of the transcripts from the Committee’s interviews of seven Agency employees. During the interview process, your staff noted concerns about the possible chilling effect on testimony of Agency employees if the Agency were privy to the information disclosed by the employees. In light of your March 12 letter, which contains multiple references to individual testimony and is posted on the Committee’s website, EPA believes that this concern is not longer a valid basis for withholding the transcripts from the Agency. The Agency has an interest in ensuring that the information provided to the Committee by Agency employees in their official capacity is accurate and complete, particularly here where that information appears to be the basis for a new and expansive document request.

We look forward to discussions with your staff on the scope of this request. As I have said before, this is a top priority for the Agency and we are committed to responding as expeditiously as possible. . .

EPA Fully Embroiled in Scandal; Bush Changed Regulations

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 14 Mar 2008 10:44:00 GMT

EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson has taken significant heat from environmental groups, state officials, and Congress for his December denial of California’s Clean Air Act waiver request to enact AB 32 to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions (and the February release of his justification). Congressional investigations, though stonewalled repeatedly by Johnson, have revealed that unanimous staff recommendations to approve the waiver were overturned by the administrator.

The Supreme Court decision Mass. v. EPA, which compelled the agency to make a decision on the waiver, also required the agency to make an endangerment finding as to whether greenhouse gases pose a threat to human health and if so, to issue motor vehicle regulations. On Wednesday Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)’s Oversight Committee investigation revealed that Johnson in fact attempted to issue an endangerment finding and motor vehicle regulations in December, but was evidently overruled by the White House and Department of Transportation. Johnson is still being unresponsive to Waxman’s investigation, as well as the one newly opened by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) of the Global Warming Committee.

Late Wednesday night, the EPA issued new smog regulations, lowering the public health (primary) and public welfare (secondary) standards to 75 parts per billion from 84 ppb. The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin revealed that the EPA scientific panel was overruled in its recommendation to establish a much lower seasonal secondary standard to protect plantlife during the growing season:
Nearly a year ago, EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee reiterated in writing that its members were “unanimous in recommending” that the agency set the standard no higher than 70 parts per billion (ppb) and to consider a limit as low as 60 ppb.

She goes on to note that on March 6, the Office of Management and Budget’s Susan E. Dudley sent a letter to the EPA asking them to consider the effect of a too strict regulation on “economic values and on personal comfort and well-being,”. EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus C. Peacock replied that “EPA cannot consider costs in setting a secondary standard,” with the cutting retort: “EPA is not aware of any information that ozone has beneficial effects on economic values or on personal comfort and well being.”

Today Eilperin further revealed that President Bush personally stepped in at the last minute to block the EPA’s intended secondary standard.
The president’s order prompted a scramble by administration officials to rewrite the regulations to avoid a conflict with past EPA statements on the harm caused by ozone. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement warned administration officials late Tuesday night that the rules contradicted the EPA’s past submissions to the Supreme Court, according to sources familiar with the conversation. As a consequence, administration lawyers hustled to craft new legal justifications for the weakened standard.