EPA Spews Auto Industry Propaganda

The recent holiday season is a reminder that among the most vile of creatures is the religious hypocrite on the taxpayer dole.

There are no doubt numerous examples that could be cited within the Bush administration, but top of mind this week would be Steve Johnson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ignoring all legal and technical evidence -- and the advice of his career experts -- Johnson sided with the car industry and rejected the request of California to enforce the state's landmark greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles. (No fewer than 19 other states have already adopted these standards or are considering them, representing about half the U.S. population.) In fact, Johnson took action that his own legal team said was probably illegal.

To top things off, when it appeared that the story was about to leak (thanks to excellent reporting by The Washington Post), Johnson abruptly called an evening news conference by telephone to put his "spin" on the situation.

In the process, Johnson lied through his teeth to the media. Among other lies, Johnson claimed approving California's request would create a "confusing patchwork of state rules" (No, this is just auto industry propaganda. There would only be one standard that other states could adopt. So many had either done so or contemplating adoption, that it could have become a de facto national standard.). Johnson claimed that the standard would save less gasoline than the new fuel economy standards in the energy bill. (Another lie. The car companies opposed the California standards because they would require them to do more.) And the EPA chief gushed over his "world-class professional staff" at the same time that he froze them out of the decision-making process.

Instead, Johnson did what the White House wanted him to do, which was give a giant Christmas gift to the car industry, which had lobbied various White House agencies and even Vice President Cheney in an effort to kill the California request.

This compulsion to lie might be considered normal in a standard politician, but Johnson has postured that he is a devoutly religious man -- in fact, he even taped a promotional spot for an evangelical proselytizing organization known as Christian Embassy.

In that video tape, Johnson states that "I can't imagine doing this [job] without the Lord."

He also claims he meets with the group at his office early in the morning to "have a Bible study." (It's worth noting that Johnson claimed he was "too busy" to meet with Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., before announcing the California decision.)

Ultimately, Johnson will be exposed for his mendacity in this matter. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., is demanding all the internal documents and other relevant material -- and has warned EPA to "preserve all documents" related to the issue. And California and 15 other states are suing and likely will eventually win in court.

But it's worth pointing out that it's not the first time this EPA head has blatantly lied about a critical decision that helped polluting industry. In order to save industry money, last year Johnson set weak national standards for airborne soot -- a decision that will lead to many thousands of premature deaths. Even the mild-mannered head of EPA's science advisory board noted Johnson was "a little disingenuous" in claiming there was scientific doubt about what to do.

And soon Johnson will make yet another decision that could either save -- or take -- lives, since he is under a court order to announce a decision by March on new national air quality standards for ozone, or smog.

Last year, Johnson proposed a slight tightening of the standard -- though not as tight as unanimously recommended by his science advisers -- because scientific evidence is overwhelming that the current standards don't adequately protect the health of kids with asthma and many millions of other Americans.

But with a final decision looming, polluting industries have ramped up their lobbying activities. Prompted by the National Association of Manufacturers, 11 governors wrote to the EPA head, urging him to make no change in the current standards.

The lobbying blitz so alarmed Senator Tom Carper, D-Del., head of the Senate clean air subcommittee, that he sent Johnson a handwritten note urging him not to cave under political pressure.

Maybe Carper should have sent a Bible along.

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