Who Knew? Controlling Carbon Pollution Under the Clean Air Act Was a Bush Administration Idea

Today Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a 2008 letter from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson to President George W. Bush saying that the science supported “a positive endangerment determination” on carbon pollution, and proposing an action plan to curb emissions from motor vehicles and industrial sources just like the action plan actually carried out by the Obama EPA.

Who knew controlling carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act was actually a Bush administration plan?

Actually, we knew part of this before, but only part.  We knew that in May 2007, a month after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, President Bush went to the Rose Garden and ordered EPA Administrator Johnson to implement it by setting carbon pollution standards for new vehicles.  And for a while it looked like the EPA actually would be allowed to act – until Johnson sent a proposed endangerment finding to the Office of Management and Budget in December of that year, and the OMB officials refused to open the email

At the time, Johnson played the loyalist and declined to tell Congress what happened.  But now we see that in January 2008, he appealed directly – albeit unsuccessfully – to President Bush to stand by his Rose Garden pledge and let Johnson carry out the law.

The Johnson letter reveals three new and important facts:

(1)    That the Bush administration’s EPA thought “a positive endangerment finding” was compelled by both the science and the law.  

Johnson wrote that the Supreme Court’s decision “combined with the latest science of climate change requires the Agency to propose a positive endangerment finding.”  He continued:  “the state of the latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research.”  No hedging there.

(2)    That Johnson’s action plan – to issue an endangerment finding, set vehicle standards, and more – had “Cabinet-level” buy-in.

Johnson wrote that the scientific and legal need to issue a positive endangerment finding “was agreed to at the Cabinet-level meeting in November.”  He continued:  “A robust interagency policy process involving principal meetings over the past eight months has enabled me to formulate a plan that is prudent and· cautious yet forward thinking.”  Further proof that they were for it before they were against it.

(3)    That Johnson’s action plan contained exactly the same steps that his successor, Lisa Jackson, has carried out.

Johnson told President Bush he had formulated a “prudent and· cautious yet forward thinking” action plan that “will fulfill your Administration’s obligations under the Supreme Court decision.”  The plan is attached to his letter.  Phase 1 called for these actions:

  • In response to the Supreme Court mandate in Massachusetts v EPA, issue a proposed positive endangerment finding for public notice and comment as agreed to in the policy process.
  • In response to the direction in [the Energy Independence and Security Act], issue a proposed vehicles rule jointly with the Department of Transportation to implement the new EISA and address issues raised in the Supreme Court case.
  • To address requirements under the Clean Air Act, issue a proposed rule to update the New Source Review program to raise greenhouse gas thresholds to avoid covering small sources and to better define cost-effective, available technology.

     Timing: Proposal in March or April. Final by the end of 2008.

Johnson’s letter noted that further actions were required:  “[W]ithin the next several months, EPA must face regulating greenhouse gases from power plants, some industrial sources, petroleum refineries and cement kilns.”  So in his plan he proposed to address these sources in Phase 2, in spring 2008.

Yo!  A four-part plan approved by the Bush Cabinet:

  • Issue the endangerment finding:  Check!  Administrator Jackson did that in December 2009. 
  • Issue joint Clean Air Act and EISA vehicle standards for carbon emissions and fuel economy:   Check!  Jackson did that in April 2010.
  • Issue the “tailoring rule” protecting small sources and limiting new source review to the only biggest facilities: Check!  Jackson did that in June 2010.
  • Address industrial sources, including power plants and petroleum refineries:  Check!  Jackson has set a timetable for setting carbon pollution performance standards for power plants and oil refineries over the next two years.

These facts may prove inconvenient for Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) – and their special guest Sen. Jim Inhofe – at Wednesday’s hearing on their bill to block EPA from doing its job under the Clean Air Act.

The very Obama administration actions that Upton, Inhofe, and company are set on vilifying were proposed by the Bush EPA and approved by the Bush Cabinet.