Thursday, February 14, 2008

Behind the scenes: smog struggle

Less than four weeks now until the US EPA announces its decision on whether to change current national standards for ozone, or smog. And things are getting VERY interesting behind the scenes.

Officially - according to the White House Office of Management and Budget website - EPA has not yet transmitted its plan to the White House for review. The truth is, EPA is obviously in active give and take with OMB already. See more on this below.

The Bush administration is just trying to keep the details of this matter as secret as possible. (Some in the business world have been told that EPA is pushing a tougher new standard, though weaker than that recommended by EPA's science advisers.)

Despite the efforts at secrecy, some information is creeping out as EPA puts information in its official regulatory docket. (You can see this for your self at then docket number EPA-HQ-OAR-2005-0172. )

Kudos to Dawn Reeves of Inside EPA for spotting a docketed e-mail in which an OMB staffer named Heidi R. King sought information to support a miniscule change in the current, outmoded smog standard.

In other words, OMB is fishing around for information that would support basically making no change in the current standard.

The EPA docket, by the way, is starting to include some other pretty interesting material. For example, Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl writes to EPA and appears to endorse the views of the state branch of the odious National Association of Manufacturers. (Shame on you, Herb! This is one of the naughtiest things you've done since you fronted for the Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine people when they were fighting against pollution standards.

Also, the views of the Agriculture Department, which doesn't want EPA to change the current standard in part because of the smog problems caused by biofuels (which the Ag Department promotes because its mission is to increase money for farmers.)

Of possible interest also is the list of staffers within the Bush administration who have been tasked with reviewing the EPA plan. Our favorite reviewer is one Indur Goklany, who has worked in the past for various polluter-funded alleged think tanks. In fact, just last week the Cato Institute was touting a new report he authored which appears to oppose efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Goklany has also been known to say a kind word or two about the banned chemical DDT

Finally (for now) an interesting list of those who met personally with EPA Administrator Steve Johnson on the smog issue right before Christmas (as Johnson was preparing his recommendation to share with the White House. One meeting included such heavy weights as Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute, "Governor" John Engler of the National Association of Manufacturers, Dave McCurdy of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Jack Gerard of the American Chemistry Council. All, presumably, were arguing against tougher standards, as were agricultural interests noted at a separate meeting. These included the Renewable Fuels Association, the Corn Refiners Association and the National Corn Growers. The final attachment also includes health, environmental and state advocates who met separately with Johnson. Most argued for tougher standards - actually, for Johnson to follow the recommendations of his own science advisers.

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