It's official: no Bush Administration official, current or former, can hold a candle to EPA chief Stephen Johnson when it comes to chutzpah.
Alberto Gonzales, to be sure, would normally be stiff competition. But for all his lies, half-truths, and careful distortions, Alberto Gonzales somehow lacked something in the way of chutzpah. Maybe it was the way he sometimes stuttered out his answers, his un-recollections, and apologies. Johnson, by stark contrast, does the job with bureaucratic sangfroid.
Last April, the Supreme Court found in a landmark ruling that the EPA could no longer avoid regulating greenhouse gases. It had to make a decision. Even then, it was apparent to all observers what the EPA's finding must be. The EPA's scientists, wonks and lawyers went to work on it. And they found, not surprisingly, that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, which means they must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Johnson himself reviewed that work, disputed part of it, but agreed with the overall thrust of the finding. The EPA then, having dotted the i's and crossed the t's, sent the finding to the White House in December. And there things stopped.
So the finding is finished. It is sitting on the shelf at the White House. Also sitting on a shelf is the EPA's 300-page draft of a rule to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. But such regulation can go nowhere until the endangerment finding is made official.
We reported earlier this month that Johnson was transparently stonewalling. His stated rationale then was that the energy bill which the president signed into law last December had complicated things, a transparently bogus argument, since the only law at issue is the Clean Air Act.
But as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) noted in a statement last night, the Heritage Foundation has been floating an alternative strategy for stonewalling: the EPA should call for public comment on the rule. Such a move would delay any endangerment finding for months. And, The Los Angeles Times reports, "during an economic downturn, seeking comprehensive public comment and a 'go-slow' approach would be far better," the think tankers reasoned (presumably they're all for environmental regulation during boom times). At the very least, the move would push the issue into the next administration, which is really all pro-business conservatives can hope for.
And yesterday, that's exactly what Johnson did. As he proudly proclaimed in his letter (pdf) announcing the move:
"This approach gives the appropriate care and attention this complex issue demands. Rather than rushing to judgment on a single issue, this approach allows us to examine all the potential effects of a decision with the benefit of the public's insight. In short, this process will best serve the American public."
His spokesman was similarly proud:
"No matter what is shouted or screamed from the rooftops, this is truly a historic moment. No administration has taken this step to evaluate this new pollutant."
And that's what I call chutzpah.
Keep in mind that Johnson has also -- against the unanimous recommendation of his staff -- blocked California's attempt to pass stiff greenhouse gas limits. After all, what good would it be for him to stonewall instituting limits at the EPA if California and 16 other states went ahead with their proposed limits? No good at all.