Friday, December 21, 2007

Strengthening this Week's Chutzpah Case

Today's Los Angeles Times has a follow-up article by Janet Wilson about Stephen Johnson the reinforces yesterday's Chutzpah of the Week award decision and one of the hypotheses behind that decision. Here is the lead:

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ignored his staff's written findings in denying California's request for a waiver to implement its landmark law to slash greenhouse gases from vehicles, sources inside and outside the agency told The Times on Thursday.

"California met every criteria . . . on the merits. The same criteria we have used for the last 40 years on all the other waivers," said an EPA staffer. "We told him that. All the briefings we have given him laid out the facts."

EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson announced Wednesday that because President Bush had signed an energy bill raising average fuel economy that there was no need or justification for separate state regulation. He also said that California's request did not meet the legal standard set out in the Clean Air Act.

But his staff, which had worked for months on the waiver decision, concluded just the opposite, the sources said Thursday. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk with the media or because they feared reprisals.

Thus, this award goes solely to Johnson and should not in any way reflect on all the other members of EPA staff who have been trying to do their respective jobs under what appear to be highly adverse conditions.

The hypothesis that justified the award on the basis of terminology that Johnson shared with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, on the other hand, may require further investigation:

Some staff members believe Johnson made his decision after auto executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney and after a Chrysler executive delivered a letter to the White House outlining why neither California nor the EPA should be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases, among other reasons. The Detroit News reported Wednesday that chief executives of Ford and Chrysler met with Cheney last month.

"Clearly the White House said, 'We're going to get EPA out of the way and get California out of the way. If you give us this energy bill, then we're done, the deal is done,' " said one staffer.

Chrysler spokesman Colin McBean said that records show that Chrysler submitted position papers on the mileage issue with the Bush administration's Office of Management and Budget about five weeks ago. Neither McBean nor a Ford spokeswoman would comment on whether company executives met with Cheney.

Jennifer Moore, a spokeswoman on environmental issues for Ford in Dearborn, Mich., said her company had no reason to question the EPA administrator's assertion that his decision was independent of the White House.

Charles Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington, said there was "absolutely not" any linkage between his trade group's decision to support the final version of the Senate energy bill and the EPA's decision to deny California's request for a waiver. Territo said the industry has always stressed a national mileage standard and opposed the California petition.

My guess (emphasizing that, with the current evidence, it is nothing more than a guess) is that the word "patchwork," which I cited yesterday, first emerged and the Cheney meeting, from which it "migrated" to both Johnson and David McCurdy, president and chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, both of whom invoked it in the statements they prepared yesterday. Under this scenario, it is still the case that Johnson was acting as a front to deliver a script; and now we know that this script in no way reflected any of the more seriously regulatory activities of the EPA. Whether he was invoking his authority to shill for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers or the Vice President is a minor matter; either way the chutzpah resided in his brazen abuse of authority in a situation so transparent as to be ludicrous to just about any casual observer.

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