March 14, 2008
Lawbreaking Limbo--How Low Can EPA Go?
It's no secret that the Bush administration has been waging a tireless battle against the environment and our most fundamental laws to protect it. (Carl Pope even wrote a whole book on the subject!)
It's hard to imagine that an administration that willfully ignores even the Supreme Court could go any lower, but they once again showed that when the bar is on the floor they just crawl down into basement. This latest episode of environmental chicanery -- centered on a long-running saga concerning EPA's standards for smog-forming, crop-threatening, health-endangering ozone -- involves the usual set pieces of cronies and political hacks interfering with science and tossing aside the opinion of the professional staff in favor of the administration's politically chosen alternative.
This week, however, we were treated to a rare, last-minute special guest appearance by President Bush himself. Because of a lawsuit brought by environmentalists, EPA was under the gun and required to announce the new standards no later than Wednesday. Less than two hours before the announcement was due, rumors began spreading around Washington that EPA wouldn't meet the deadline for some reason.
After a delay of 5 hours, Administrator Johnson finally announced new standards that were lower than the existing ones -- but far weaker than what EPA's own scientists had unanimously recommended. No surprises there, unfortunately.
However, jaws dropped, environmentalists sighed, lawyers lit up and the not-so-easily stirred chattering classes gasped when it was later revealed that the President himself had stepped in at the last minute to force EPA to weaken the proposed standards. While we’ve to expect this at EPA, the last-minute interference from the President himself to weaken the standards appears to be "unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference."
The administration's top lawyer, Solicitor General Paul Clement, was forced to weigh in late Tuesday when it became clear that the new standards would contradict the administration's own past legal submissions to the Supreme Court and would run afoul of the Clean Air Act. The delay in the announcement apparently came in order to allow the administration's lawyers to literally make up whole new legal justifications for its shenanigans.
Geez, is it January 20 yet?