April 10, 2008

EPA Must Review Legal Process to Root Out Political Influence, Whitehouse Tells Nominee

R.I. Senator Sees Disregard for Science, Law in Recent Agency Decisions

Washington, D.C. – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must undertake a thorough, comprehensive review of the process by which the agency makes decisions to determine whether Bush administration officials have put political considerations above science and the law, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said today at a confirmation hearing for the nominee to be EPA’s general counsel.

“The fact that the courts of the United States have felt compelled to characterize the positions EPA has taken in recent litigation by referring to Humpty Dumpty and Alice in Wonderland is embarrassing both to the agency and to the American people,” said Whitehouse, a member of the EPW Committee. “I’m deeply concerned that this Administration appears to be making legal decisions that impact our environment and public health not on their merits or their likelihood of success, but to advance a political agenda that risks lasting harm to our country.”

At today’s confirmation hearing, the EPW Committee heard testimony from David Hill, President Bush’s nominee to be General Counsel of the EPA. Whitehouse closely questioned Hill on his commitment to helping EPA regain the stature and independence it has lost during the Bush Administration.

There have been numerous signs that the decision-making process at EPA in recent years, and particularly under current Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, has been compromised by political considerations that disregard the demands of federal law and scientific evidence. Since 2001, federal courts have reversed a significant number of EPA’s rules, including decisions relating to mercury emissions, water pollution discharges, new source review, and restrictions on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks.

In New York v. EPA, decided in 2006, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said EPA’s legal argument supporting its decision to weaken new source review requirements belonged “in a Humpty Dumpty world.” In New Jersey v. EPA, decided two years later, the same court said EPA’s position employs “the logic of the Queen of Hearts.” Hill acknowledged during today’s hearing that he had reviewed those cases.

Yesterday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) subpoenaed Administrator Johnson for the third time this year to compel the release of documents related to the EPA’s denial of a request by California, Rhode Island, and other states to set strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. Documents reviewed by staff members of the EPW Committee showed that EPA’s professional staff pushed Johnson to approve the California waiver, and demonstrated concerns among EPA staff that a denial of the waiver request would not survive a challenge in court. The documents also showed that Johnson consulted with White House officials on the waiver issue.

On January 2, 2008, California, Rhode Island, and several other states and environmental organizations sued EPA to overturn Johnson’s decision. The suit is now pending in the D.C. Circuit Court.


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