Monday, February 05, 2007

EPA's Steve Johnson steps into the hot seat before Boxer panel

It should be interesting tomorrow as EPA chief Steve Johnson steps into the hot seat. More specifically, Johnson is the lead witness before Senator Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

(Former EPA chief Christie Whitman says Johnson's got no juice. For more on that, see

We will be there, watching with interest. Below, I’ve flagged a couple of things to look for.

--Johnson does some bragging in his prepared statement about how things are better than they used to be, but the record is actually quite mixed. For example, EPA’s most recent emission “trends” report shows that emissions of fine-particle soot, the most lethal of widespread pollutants, actually increased slightly between 2000 and 2005.

That increase mirrors the trend in a number of major metropolitan areas, which saw increases of fine-particle soot levels in the air in 2005: (It’s easy to check your own city’s pollution levels.)

--Johnson’s discussion of Bush changes in the process for setting national clean air standards is pure nonsense. The reality is that EPA took a recommendation directly from the oil industry, which wanted to downgrade the role of those honest EPA career workers. This was a classic special-interest giveaway.

--Johnson touts the success of the Bush administration’s diesel rules. (You will recall that one of the administration’s biggest accomplishments was upholding the Clinton administration’s clean-diesel standards for trucks, buses and highway diesel fuel – after a slight delay.)

But where the heck are the long-promised standards to clean up dirty diesel trains and medium-sized diesel boats – something EPA has literally been promising since May of 2004? EPA has determined that pollution from these engines is shortening the lives of literally thousands of people a year. Every year of delay adds to the body count.

And today’s budget revelations raise other questions. The administration is seeking a mere $35 million for grants to clean up existing diesel engines – school buses, and the like. This is a slight step in the right direction, but it is still a pittance compared to the demonstrated need – and the fact the Congress actually authorized $200 million a year in such funding. Why is the Bush administration being so cheap when it comes to helping little school kids breathe easier?

Equally disturbing, the administration seeks to cut approximately $35 million from grants to state and local clean air agencies. The National Association of Clean Air Agencies can best comment on this, but how can Johnson brag that EPA doing such a great job, when it wants to hack away at state and local agencies, that are often on the front line of the fight against pollution?

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