EPA Begins Untangling Bush Policies, Starts California’s Waiver Review

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EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson isn’t wasting any time as she begins untangling the Bush administration’s corporate-protectionist policies on greenhouse gases.

This morning, Jackson filed a notice with the Federal Register that she would reconsider the Bush administration’s refusal to let California set higher state standards for auto emissions. Once the Federal Register gets that notice down in ink, supporters and opponents will have 60 days to comment, and then Jackson will make her decision.

Jackson promised an impartial review, saying:

It is imperative that we get this decision right, and base it on the best available science and a thorough understanding of the law.

The new EPA administrator is widely expected to approve California’s long-delayed waiver. Last week, President Obama urged his administration to begin taking action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The administration also today dropped a Bush-era appeal of a ruling in New Jersey v. EPA. The court found that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it exempted coal-fired power plants from strict mercury emission controls. Jackson’s EPA now plans to develop "appropriate standards" consistent with the ruling.

Next up: The EPA needs to act on a nearly two-year-old U.S. Supreme Court requirement that the Bush administration swept under the rug – making an official determination under the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gases are endangering the public health and welfare.

The attorneys general of 18 states sent a letter to Jackson yesterday asking her to act quickly and decisively on the case. Action could be swift. The attorneys general say the leg work required for advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) is finished and all that remains is the official determination:

Indeed, the ANPR and the Technical Summary remove any reasonable doubt that endangerment is occurring as a result of greenhouse gas emissions. … The science is clear and the need for action at the federal level immediate. Issuance of the endangerment determination is a decisive step that can and should be taken now.

The letter was signed by the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, plus the cities of New York and Baltimore.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who has close ties to the case, is optimistic:

With the change in administrations, we are extremely hopeful that the EPA will finally start to do its job under the statute.

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled in April 2007 that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and that it cannot refuse to use that authority simply because of policy preferences. The court ordered the EPA to make a determination based on science. If the agency found a danger to public health and welfare, the EPA would have to begin setting standards to regulate greenhouse gases emissions from motor vehicles.

Coakley’s office says the Bush EPA did send a proposed endangerment determination to the White House in late 2007 as an e-mail attachment, but White House officials refused to open the document, and former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson refused repeated requests to make the document public.

With Jackson now in charge of the EPA, Massachusetts doesn’t expect to have to file suit again, Coakley spokeswoman Jill Butterworth told us.

"We’re feeling pretty confident that we’ll have a determination soon," she said. "It will certainly have a far-reaching impact for all the states."


UPDATE: We spoke with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s office after posting this article and asked about the letter from the attorneys general. Spokeswoman Catherine Milbourn forwarded us this official statement: "EPA is confident that people will be satisfied by how quickly and carefully the agency addresses this matter."

Now that sounds like progress.


See also:

Clean Air Jumpstart

US Chamber of Commerce Launches Campaign Against Clean Air

Obama’s EPA Calls a Time-Out on Dirty Coal