Ignoring the Supreme Court

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

THE BUSH administration never had any intention of doing what the Supreme Court commanded it to do a year ago today: regulate greenhouse gas emissions. We infer this because, even though President Bush ordered his agencies last May to work together to meet the court's directive, and even though the Environmental Protection Agency delivered to the White House last December its finding that those pollutants endanger public welfare, a prerequisite for regulation, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson announced last week a plan to seek public input starting in the spring on how best to limit the emissions. Translation: punt to the next administration. This giant step backward is the starkest example yet of the chasm between the words and deeds of Mr. Bush on climate change.

For a year, Mr. Johnson assured all who inquired that the EPA was "working diligently to develop an overall strategy" for regulating greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time he was making decisions that increased U.S. contributions to global warming. For instance, in August 2007, he issued a permit authorizing construction of a coal-fired power plant in Utah. In December, he denied California's request for a waiver to mandate a 30 percent reduction in tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions by 2016. Eleven other states, including Maryland, had adopted the California standards.

Thanks to a 10-page letter from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) to Mr. Johnson, we know that all that talk about working diligently wasn't a total ruse. The March 12 missive chronicled the work of scores of people in multiple federal departments who labored for months to craft a proposal that would have reduced carbon dioxide from motor vehicles equivalent to a fleet fuel economy of 35 miles per gallon by 2018. It noted that Mr. Johnson signed off on the finding in October. Fulfilling a commitment made to Congress to issue a finding by the end of the year, Mr. Johnson had the 300-page proposal delivered to the White House in early December. But later that month, Mr. Bush signed the energy bill that boosted fuel economy for cars and light trucks to 35 mpg by 2020 and increased the amount of renewable fuels in the gas supply. That's when action stopped, prompting Mr. Waxman's inquiry into why.

Mr. Johnson's decision to call for public comment after all that work shows a lack of leadership and a willingness to do the bidding of opponents of regulating carbon dioxide, who lobbied for a prolonged study period. Several environmental organizations will file suit today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to compel faster compliance from the EPA. We wish them luck. The Bush administration has dragged its feet on global warming for nearly eight years. It has looked askance at the sense of urgency around the world. And it has defied the Supreme Court. This latest move shows that it will stop at nothing to do nothing about climate change.

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