EPA Officials Tell Congress That Agency’s Own Efforts to Regulate Motor Vehicle CO2 Were Halted in December 2007
Senior EPA officials have told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that, after the agency concluded in December that CO2 emissions were a danger to the United States and proposed significant cuts in motor vehicle emissions, the agency’s regulatory efforts on this were halted.
According to a letter sent by Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, EPA officials said that the agency’s analysis showed that motor vehicles could achieve CO2 emission reductions equal to a fleet fuel economy standard of 35 mpg by 2018. This nationwide standard is not as stringent as the California proposal, which called for achieving the equivalent of 35 mpg by 2017 and more than 40 mpg by 2020, but it is “significantly more stringent” than the 35 mpg by 2020 standard set by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).
The Committee has been examining the EPA’s denial of the waiver required to enable California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. During this investigation, the new information surfaced on the stalling of EPA’s own efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles on a national level.
The 10-page letter from Congressman Waxman details some of the information provided by the senior EPA officials, and notifies Administrator Johnson of the Committee’s intent to investigate this new matter more thoroughly. The letter requests, as a start:
The technical support document prepared by the Office of Atmospheric Programs;
The proposed endangerment finding that was transmitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget in December 2007; and
The proposed vehicle greenhouse gas rule that was transmitted to NHTSA in December 2007.
Multiple senior EPA officials have told the Committee on the record that after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, you assembled a team of 60 to 70 EPA officials to determine whether carbon dioxide emissions endanger health and welfare and, if so, to develop regulations reducing CO2 emissions from motor vehicles. According to these officials, you agreed with your staff’s proposal that CO2 emissions from motor vehicles should be reduced and in December forwarded an endangerment finding to the White House and a proposed motor vehicle regulation to the Department of Transportation. The proposed regulation would have produced significantly more CO2 reductions than the revised fuel economy standards enacted last year.
The senior EPA officials who spoke with the Committee did not know what transpired inside the White House or the Department of Transportation or what directions the White House may have given you. They do know, however, that since you sent the endangerment finding to the White House, “the work on the vehicle efforts has stopped.” They reported to the Committee that the career officials assigned to the issue have ceased their efforts and have been “awaiting direction” since December.
These accounts raise serious questions. It appears that EPA’s efforts to regulate CO2 emissions have been effectively halted, which would appear to be a violation of the Supreme Court’s directive and an abdication of your responsibility to protect health and the environment from dangerous emissions of CO2.—Letter from Congressman Waxman
In response to the Supreme Court decision, in May 2007 President Bush signed an executive order directing EPA and other federal agencies to develop regulations to address greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
In response to the executive order, EPA assembled a team “on the order of 60 or 70” to work on the endangerment finding and the regulation of CO2, according to Karl Simon, the Director of the Compliance and Innovative Strategies Division in EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality.
Fifty-three officials from the Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAQ) alone worked on the effort from May through December 2007, according to Margo Oge, Director OTAQ. These staff resources were supplemented by outside contractor resources with a $5.3 million budget in FY 2007.
The Office of Atmospheric Programs prepared multiple drafts of a technical support document that generated “about 500 comments” from internal EPA review, external Federal expert review and other interagency comments. Agencies that reviewed this document included the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
The career staff concluded that CO2 emissions endanger both human health and welfare, according to the information provided to the committee.
According to EPA staff, the resulting proposal to regulate CO2 emissions from motor vehicles was about 300 pages long, with extensive cost/benefit analysis. The proposal was developed in conjunction with NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the Federal administration in charge of CAFE.
According to your staff, you [Johnson] supported their recommendations on two key points: (1) you agreed that CO2 emissions endanger welfare and (2) you backed their proposal to reduce CO2 emissions from motor vehicles. The main staff recommendation you rejected was the staff finding that CO2 emissions also endangered human health. Five separate EPA officials told the Committee that you personally made the decision to exclude public health from the endangerment finding.
...The career EPA staff who the Committee interviewed did not know what communications you or other political appointees in the agency may have had with White House officials. But they did tell the Committee that after the White House received the endangerment finding and the Department of Transportation received the proposed motor vehicle regulation, work on the finding and regulation was stopped.
...According to EPA staff they have been informed that work has been discontinued so that EPA’s activities can be reassessed in light of enactment of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
...As a legal matter, the passage of provisions in the Energy Independence and Security Act requiring the Department of Transportation to strengthen federal CAFE standards does not affect EPA’s legal obligation to regulate CO2 emissions. The Act included language to ensure that a change in CAFE requirements did not affect the Clean Air Act’s provisions. Moreover, the Supreme Court held in Massachusetts v. EPA: “The fact that DOT’s mandate to promote energy efficiency by setting mileage standards may overlap with EPA’s environmental responsibilities in no way licenses EPA to shirk its duty to protect the public health and welfare.—Letter from Congressman Waxman