EPA Head Receives Alberto Gonzales Award for Testimonial Evasion

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Yesterday, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson made his second appearance before the Senate environmental committee for a budget hearing. And once again, he put on a masterfully uninformative performance (unfortunately, no video is available).

The issue, remember, is that Johnson, despite the unanimous recommendations of his staff, blocked California’s attempt to institute strict greenhouse gas limits on cars and trucks. But when asked by committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) if he remembered a key meeting in May of 2007, when staff briefed him on the decision, he said he did not — and shot back “Do you remember what you were doing on Tuesday May the 1st of 2007?”

“If I saw my calendar, yes I would,” Boxer responded.

And what discussions did he have with the White House about this issue? Asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for any information about such contacts, Johnson gave the same answer again and again: “I have routine contacts with various officials on a wide range of issues. . . . I value the ability to have candid discussions that are part of good government.” As Johnson’s last hearing showed, questioning the man is a bit like boxing an iceberg.

Rebuffed, Boxer said “I don’t know what you’re hiding… It’s as if you’re taking the Fifth Amendment.”

All this moved Sen. Whitehouse to bestow the highest honor for an administration witness: a comparison to Alberto Gonzales. As he put it in a statement:

“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. Confronted with important questions regarding his contacts with White House officials and other aspects of EPA’s denial of California’s request to limit automobile emissions, Administrator Johnson simply retreated behind mindless repetitions of canned phrases.”

As I put it last hearing, Johnson clearly has absorbed Gonzales’ central teaching: never answer a question “yes” or “no.”