See No Email

So today we learned an odd new twist in the White House's refusal to let EPA regulate global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act.  Felicity Barringer reports in the New York Times today that last December officials of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) "refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency's conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened."   

In previous blog entries, I've explained how EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson  prepared last year to implement the Supreme Court's landmark decision that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.  His agency sent the White House a formal "endangerment" determination -- the step that triggers regulation -- for OMB's review and clearance.  

This was no act of bravery by the hapless Administrator.  He thought he was doing what President Bush had asked.  Momentarily chastened by the Supreme Court's decision, in May 2007 the president directed Johnson to regulate emissions of CO2 and other heat-trapping pollutants from vehicles and fuels.  

But the effect of the High Court's decision wore off quickly, and before the fall was out, the White House was back to its old ways.  Barringer reports today that when EPA sent the endangerment document over to the White House, OMB officials responded (apparently with a low-tech phone call) that they would not even open the email.  

What's this all about?  It's about trying not to leave any "paper trail" -- any electronic records -- that EPA's proposals ever reached the White House. It's about maintaining the fiction that the Bush EPA acts with any independence.  Even today, Barringer reports, the White House spokeman is still pushing the line that "It's the E.P.A. that determines what analysis it wants to make available."   


The watered-down EPA document expected to be released soon will not make the endangerment determination.  It will only mark time by asking for more comments on something everyone in the real world already knows:  that CO2 and the other heat-trapping pollutants are dangerous to our health and welfare and desparately need to be curbed.  

The politicos at EPA just do what the puppetmasters demand.  But the EPA professionals keep trying to do their job.  Fortunately, the "see-no-email" era is coming to an end.

Update: see what John Stewart had to say about the email follies.

About the Authors

David Doniger

Director, Climate & Clean Air program

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