Poor Stephen Johnson. The eminently "reasonable" EPA Administrator seems besieged on global warming issues these days, unable to step foot on Capitol Hill to talk about his 2008 budget without getting a ton of questions about California's waiver denial and EPA's much-delayed response to Massachusetts v. EPA. (Today's NY Times carries an excellent editorial explaining how the two are linked, citing and drawing out Lisa Heinzerling's argument that EPA's waiver denial may have inadvertently committed it to an endangerment finding.)
The barrage of questions continued yesterday, courtesy of Senator DIanne Feinstein (D-CA) and her Appropriations subcommittee. Hill Heat live-blogged the hearing and revealed that Johnson isn't just overwhelmed by all the legal pressure and questioning-- he's explicitly citing it to justify his delays and refusal to give straight answers. To wit, Johnson repeated the unorthodox claim-- previously made when he announced to a House subcommittee that he'd be "taking a step back" from the enandgerment finding to weigh industry's extralegal concerns-- that his delay is partly justified by a series of petitions and appeals that California and environmental groups have filed in the last several months, seeking the regulation of CO2 emissions from ships, aircraft, off-road vehicles, and new coal-burning power plants under federal jurisdiction.
Each of these actions was largely motivated by EPA's delay in making an endangerment ruling, and each covers areas that would be affected by such a determination. In other words, Johnson is audaciously claiming that in order to respond to legal maneuvers motivated by his failure to act...he must delay action even longer! And while this obfuscation doesn't carry any legal consequences, another part of Johnson's insistence that this "hard decision" requires an expansive amount of time-- perhaps until the end of the Bush administration, as advised by the Heritage Foundation, which also takes credit for
choreographing inspiring Johnson's rationale)-- actually highlights the imminent possibility of yet another lawsuit against EPA.
You see, Johnson flat-out refused to set a target date for completing the decision-making process, and would not answer whether any of his staff was even working on the enandgerment evaluation (as opposed to a "myriad of issues"). The latter answer led Senator Feinstein to conclude, based on what she'd evidently been hearing from sources inside the agency, that no one other than Johnson himself is weighing the issue.
The legal coalition responsible for initiating Mass. v. EPA will likely beg to differ with this exhaustive process, having notified the Administrator last month that it was prepared to sue for unreasonable delay if Johnson didn't provide a firm target date by February 27-- a.k.a. last Wednesday. Stay tuned...