February 15, 2011
By Eileen Claussen
This op-ed first appeared in Politico
A vocal contingent in the House is now attacking the current Environmental Protection Agency administrator for the very thing her predecessor in the Bush administration wanted to do.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson wrote a letter to President George W. Bush laying out the legal and scientific rationale for regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Johnson explained steps that the EPA would take to begin to do so.
Johnson’s letter surfaced last week at the House Energy and Power subcommittee hearing on proposed legislation to strip EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Remarkably, it proved that Bush’s EPA administrator had reached the same conclusions and planned almost identical actions to what the current EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, has begun implementing.
What exactly does Johnson tell Bush? He insists that the EPA must respond to the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA with a finding that greenhouse gases represent a risk to public health or welfare. This is EPA’s “endangerment finding,” which would be overturned by legislation now being proposed in the House.
Johnson also noted, “the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research.”
What is most telling is that Johnson states that a positive endangerment finding was “agreed to at the Cabinet-level meeting.” Apparently senior Bush administration officials agreed that climate change poses a risk to our nation’s public health and welfare.
Johnson describes his plan as “prudent and cautious yet forward thinking,” and says it “creates a framework for responsible, cost-effective and practical actions.” Sound familiar?
Jackson, in her statement at the hearing last week, called EPA’s actions a “reasonable approach,” one that “will reflect careful consideration of costs and will incorporate compliance flexibility.”
Indeed, the step-by-step plan of action spelled out by Johnson could be a checklist for the EPA’s recent actions — largely the same actions being aggressively attacked today by some in Congress.
These actions include the endangerment finding; a joint rule-making with the Transportation Department to require more fuel-efficient cars; rules to modify the agency’s requirements for new sources to reduce the number of facilities that would be covered (EPA’s tailoring rule), and proposals to respond to specific petitions (EPA has acted on ones for the utility and oil refinery sectors).
Given these striking similarities, attacks on current EPA actions — that the agency is “an instrument of job destruction” and would “put the American economy in a straitjacket” — now resonate as particularly empty political rhetoric.
How could the right thing to do in the Bush administration suddenly become the wrong thing to do in the Obama administration?
Eileen Claussen served as assistant secretary of state for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. She is now president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.