While it may come as no surprise to anyone that the Bush Administration has played a major role in shaping the Environmental Protection Agency’s policies and its approach to enforcing our nation’s environmental laws over the past seven years, two recent events should serve as a reminder.
To begin with, the Associated Press reported last month that the EPA has told its pollution enforcement officials not to talk with Congressional investigators, reporters, or even the agency’s own inspector general about EPA-related matters. In an internal e-mail dated June 16, 2008, 11 managers in the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance were reminded by division chief of staff, Robbi Farrell, that their staff members were to keep quiet. Among other things, the email advised; “If you are contacted directly by the IG’s office or GAO requesting information of any kind … please do not respond to questions or make any statements….” Instead, Farrell advised that staff members should forward inquiries to a representative designated by the EPA to handle those sorts of requests.
In response to the Associated Press’s story, the EPA issued an official statement suggesting that the e-mail was aimed at making agency responses to the press, the EPA’s Inspector General and Congress’ General Accountability Office more efficient, consistent and coordinated. The EPA also said officials could still talk to investigators as long as they checked in with the appropriate representatives. About 900 lawyers and technical support staff are employed by the division at EPA headquarters in Washington.
The e-mail, according to EPA, was a response to a May 2007 audit by the Inspector General’s Office that found the agency had not responded to earlier IG reports on problems with water enforcement and other matters. However, after learning of the email, the Office of Inspector General said that it did not approve of the language in the e-mail and was engaged in discussions with enforcement officials to ensure the electronic dispatch would not hinder its access to information. The EPA’s statement said:
All EPA officials and employees are required to cooperate with OIG. This cooperation includes providing the OIG full and unrestricted access to EPA documents, records, and personnel.
Of course, the real driving force behind the email is the fact that the EPA is currently under pressure from several Congressional committees to disclose documents relating to its position on global warming and its denial of a petition by California to control greenhouse gases from motor vehicles. That issue has become a hot-button issue on Capitol Hill in the wake of testimony given by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson at a January hearing held by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.
In fact, a number of Senate Democrats are now calling for a perjury investigation into Johnson’s testimony that the EPA decided on its own to deny California a waiver that would allow the state to implement environmental regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from cars that would exceed federal standards. Johnson also told the panel that any contact with the White House on the issue was routine.
Unfortunately, a former EPA official, Jason Burnett, who worked closely with Johnson, recently gave the Senate committee a very different version of that story. According to Burnett, Mr. Johnson was about to approve California’s request until he ran the issue by the White House. Burnett, a former EPA global warming specialist, said the response was that “the President had a policy preference for a single standard that would be inconsistent with granting the waiver.” Burnett said Johnson then overruled the unanimous recommendation of his staff and denied the waiver request.
After receiving that testimony, several committee members asked the U.S. Attorney General to investigate whether Johnson lied when he told the Senate that no one outside of his own office played a role in the decision to deny California’s request to move forward with tougher emission standards. Regardless of what comes from the Senate and Justice Department investigations, these latest incidents are just further evidence to me that the Bush Administration has two over-arching goals when it comes to our nation’s environmental policies. First, it is dead-set on watering down every pollution standard that big-business must comply with in this country; and second, it wants to keep the public in the dark about its role in that process. As far as I’m concerned, the Bush Administration’s strangle-hold over EPA policy decisions can’t end soon enough.
Source: Associated Press and NPR
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