A Man for All Seasons

So last night I caught the classic film, “A Man for All Seasons,” about Sir Thomas More’s principled refusal to take orders from King Henry VIII.  There was a character in there who reminded me of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson – and it wasn’t Sir Thomas More. 

You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

Administrator Johnson today issued his formal reasons for blocking California and 17 other states from enforcing their landmark vehicle emission standards for the pollutants that cause global warming.  In December, Johnson told Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that he could fagettaboudit.  

His excuse?  That California is not suffering “compelling and extraordinary conditions” – the bar the state must clear under the Clean Air Act in order to set its own vehicle emission standards – because global warming is not “unique” to California.  As I show in a statement today and in a previous post, that’s both factually and legally wrong. 

Johnson says he's just following the law and acting independently, even though documents revealed by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee show that he acted contrary to his professional staff’s advice and under White House direction.

Which brings me back to Sir Thomas More. 

Sir Thomas was done in by the testimony of one Richard Rich, who received from the King a lucrative post in Wales as his reward. 

Said Sir Thomas:  “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?”

Some thought Mr. Johnson would resign rather than do this bidding.  But for his service, it seems he will enjoy the title of EPA Administrator for all of another 11 months.

So when we suffer stronger heat waves and smog in summer, more wildfires and hurricanes in the fall, winters without snow, and species that don’t return in springtime, perhaps we’ll remember Stephen Johnson as “a man for all seasons.”

About the Authors

David Doniger

Director, Climate & Clean Air program

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