Thursday, January 03, 2008

News notes: How Bush EPA uses misleading car company rhetoric to dupe neophyte reporters

It is both interesting – and a little depressing -- to watch how the Bush administration has adopted misleading car company rhetoric in rejecting California’s greenhouse gas standards – and how neophyte reporters keep getting duped.

A case in point: for years the car companies have been agitating against California’s vehicle standards, contending they would lead to a “patchwork” of state standards. (See detailed references below.) EPA chief Steve Johnson embraced the “patchwork” line in rejecting California’s request to enforce the standards.

“Patchwork,” of course, is a completely inaccurate word in this context. (See, for instance, at

Under the Clean Air Act, there are only two possible standards for motor vehicles: federal standards, and potentially tougher California standards, which by law other states are permitted to adopt. (And in reality, California standards historically have paved the way for tougher national standards.) That’s hardly the makings of a quilt.

And yet the “patchwork” phrase keeps getting picked up, often uncritically, by some in the major media. Consider, for example, today’s Washington Post, which notes, without quotations or any qualifier, that “In denying the waiver this time, EPA Director Stephen L. Johnson said following a single federal policy rather than having a confusing patchwork of state laws would be a more efficient way to combat global warming.”

You’d think the Post would do better – given that reporter Juliet Eilperin earlier broke the news that Johnson had rejected the views of his technical and legal team, which concluded that California should receive the waiver and that rejecting it was probably illegal! But Eilperin has been dispatched to cover the presidential campaign, and the story was passed off to a reporter who apparently hasn’t covered it before, and so was easy pickings for the Bush dupe machine. But where are the Post editors?

In sharp contrast, note that New York Times reporter Felicity Barringer put the Bush/car company bs into proper context by noting that California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols “pointed out, in a telephone news conference, that the Clean Air Act did not permit a patchwork of individual state regulations; it permits California to have independent rules on air pollutants, and permits other states to choose between the federal standards or more stringent standards set by California.”

Thank you, Felicity!


Johnson quote in EPA press release announcing waiver denial:

"The Bush Administration is moving forward with a clear national solution - not a confusing patchwork of state rules - to reduce America's climate footprint from vehicles."

Johnson’s propagandists repeated the “patchwork” baloney in a statement yesterday after California and 15 other states sued.

In doing this, the Bush administration simply adopted the patchwork language used previously by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers:

"The U.S. Congress reserved the issue of regulating vehicle fuel economy to the federal government to balance all sectors of the economy and to avoid a patchwork quilt of state regulations which hurt businesses and, perhaps more importantly, consumers. It is a simple fact. This regulation is federally preempted."
Fred Webber, AAM, before the CARB, 9/23/04

"In this light, a patchwork of state-level fuel economy regulations, as is now proposed by California, is not simply unnecessary, it's patently counterproductive."
Steven Douglas, AAM, before the USEPA, 5/22/07

"The regulation of greenhouse gas emissions therefore requires a coordinated national approach rather than a patchwork of state approaches. This is especially true for the automobile industry where Congress - through the preemption provisions of EPCA and the Clean Air Act - has recognized the need for a uniform, nationwide approach for standards that impact the design and manufacture of automobiles."
Ellen Gleberman, AAM, Submitted to EPA Docket, 6/15/07

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