First, the answer indicated that the timing was, in fact, a coincidence. Second, Johnson is likely referring here to the documents leaked to The Washington Post that showed that "the unanimous recommendation of the agency's legal and technical staffs" was to approve California's waiver (see notes on those documents here). So he seems to be saying that he didn't want these documents leaking before he was able to make his decision.So he rushed to release his decision.
But Johnson just would not admit that he'd rolled out the EPA's decision in conjunction with the White House's bill signing. No, no, no. But it wasn't clear what he was admitting, since he is so adept at digressing into minute discussions of statutes and agency process.
Sen. Sanders, who began the hearing already fed up with Johnson, wasn't going to hear it. And by the end of his five minutes of questioning, Johnson did seem to have tacitly admitted that there was a connection. But not before an exasperated Sanders reminded him once that he was, in fact, under oath and shouted at him "You keep saying 'As I said,' but you didn't say!"
The press release:
America Receives a National Solution for Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions
(Washington, D.C. â December 19, 2007) The Bush Administration is moving forward with a national solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from American vehicles. The new energy legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Bush this week provides a federal fuel economy standard that offers environmental benefits, energy security and economic certainty for the nation.
"The Bush Administration is moving forward with a clear national solution â not a confusing patchwork of state rules â to reduce Americaâs climate footprint from vehicles," said U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "President Bush and Congress have set the bar high, and, when fully implemented, our federal fuel economy standard will achieve significant benefits by applying to all 50 states.â
EPA has determined that a unified federal standard of 35 miles per gallon will deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks in all 50 states, which would be more effective than a partial state-by-state approach of 33.8 miles per gallon.
Californiaâs current waiver request is distinct from all prior requests. Previous waiver petitions covered pollutants that predominantly impacted local and regional air quality. Greenhouse gases are fundamentally global in nature, which is unlike the other air pollutants covered by prior California waiver requests. These gases contribute to the challenge of global climate change affecting every state in the union. Therefore, according to the criteria in section 209 of the Clean Air Act, EPA did not find that separate California standards are needed to âmeet compelling and extraordinary conditions.â
The Clean Air Act requires EPA to follow a process when determining waiver requests. EPA must provide a public comment and hearing opportunity. The statute also provides three very specific criteria that EPA should evaluate for any California waiver petition.
EPA held two hearings on the waiver request and the comment period began April 30 and closed June 15. The administrator and EPA staff reviewed the more than 100,000 written comments and thousands of pages of technical and scientific documentation received during the public comment period. The comments represented a wide scope of interests including those of states and localities, public health and environmental groups, academia, industry and private citizens.
The two primary approaches for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles are increasing the fuel economy of vehicles and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their fuel. The recently signed energy bill addresses both approaches by increasing the fuel economy from vehicles to 35 miles per gallon, an increase of forty percent, as well as increasing the amount of renewable fuel used to 36 billion gallons, nearly a five-fold increase.
Update: Here's the transcript:
SEN. SANDERS: Was it just a coincidence therefore that you announced your decision regarding the California waiver at a press event at 6:30 P.M. on December 19, on the evening that President Bush signed the energy bill? It seems like a strange time to be making that announcement.
MR. JOHNSON: Well, I'd be pleased to explain again. The way the agency process works is briefings and then ultimately I make a decision, I turn to the staff and direct them to write the decision document. I turned to the staff, directed them to --
SEN. SANDERS: Was it a coincidence that you happened to make a decision at 6:30 P.M. right after the president signed the energy bill? It seems to be rather strange timing.
MR. JOHNSON: Well, let me explain why. That late afternoon -- and I don't recall what time -- but my press office started receiving phone calls from major newspapers saying that papers had been leaked, and that, at least in their view, that it was misrepresenting what actually was true. And they came to me and I made a judgement call that rather than having inaccurate information, that I would announce the decision. So while that was not my preferred course -- I had a more orderly course of action that I had planned to take of announcement -- I felt compelled that the American people owed what was the truth.
SEN. SANDERS: Just a coincidence that all that happened to occur on the same day that the president signs the energy bill?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, again, I wasn't the person who leaked the information --
SEN. SANDERS: No, no, no, no. Please. Sir, I am asking you a question. The average American would find it rather strange that the head of a major agency at 6:30 P.M. on the evening that the president signs an energy bill -- and you are under oath -- would make this announcement in a press release, rather than as a substantive legal argument on such an important issue.
MR. JOHNSON: Again, I acknowledge that this situation was unique. It was unique in that I --
SEN. SANDERS: And you're saying that it's a coincidence?
MR. JOHNSON: What I said was it's a unique situation. I explained what the situation is. I'd be happy to, in greater detail for the record, if you'd like. And, again, my commitment to the governor, members of this committee, was that I would make a decision by the end of the year. I, as I've already testified, while I was deliberating --
SEN. SANDERS: Mr. Johnson, would you -- could you understand that the American people might be somewhat dubious about your explanation, that just on that particular evening at a press conference on such a lengthy issue, where the governor of California and the American people, it seems to me, are entitled to a lengthy, technical, legal argument as to why that waiver is rejected, 6:30 P.M. press release on the same day the president signs the energy bill?
MR. JOHNSON: Again, I'd be happy to, for the record, explain the circumstances that had happened. I said that the rollout or the release of my decision was unique, but given the circumstances, I felt it was the best decision.
SEN. SANDERS: And the circumstances had nothing to do with the fact that the president was signing the energy bill on that day?
MR. JOHNSON: As I said, I've already described the circumstances. We'll be happy to --
SEN. SANDERS: But you didn't answer my question. Did your release that day have nothing to do with the fact that a few hours before the president signed the energy bill? Nothing to do with it?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, as I said --
SEN. SANDERS: You didn't say, sir. You keep saying, as you said. You didn't say. I'm asking you a simple question. Was it related, was it not?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, as I tried to say that I was aware that Congress was debating this issue whether to change the Clean Air Act. I wasn't sure whether Congress would or would not.
SEN. SANDERS: Madame Chair, I have to tell you --
MR. JOHNSON: I wasn't sure if the president would sign or would not sign, and so I wanted to have --
SEN. SANDERS: You were doubtful whether the president would sign it? Everybody in America knew that he would sign it. And you're the head of the EPA, you were doubtful?
MR. JOHNSON: I wanted to have the advantage of making sure the president had indeed signed the legislation.
SEN. SANDERS: Thank you.