Over the past six months, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson has made three major controversial decisions. In each case, EPA scientists came to a unanimous conclusion that Johnson chose not to accept. And in each, states and environmental groups responded with suits against the EPA.
That third suit was filed Tuesday, when five environmental groups and fourteen states' attorneys general (plus D.C.'s) charged that Johnson's decision to adopt a more lax smog limit than that recommended by a scientific advisory panel broke the law. Dr. Rogene Henderson, the chair of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, said during a recent Congressional hearing that in EPA's ruling, "willful ignorance triumphed over sound science." An investigation by the House oversight committee has shown that Johnson made the laxer ozone ruling after the White House objected to the standard suggested by EPA staff. Internal EPA emails obtained by the committee show staff shocked by Johnson's capitulation: An EPA lawyer wrote that "we could be in a position of having to fend off contempt proceedings.... The obligation to promulgate a rule arguably means to promulgate one that is nominally defensible." Another staffer wrote that "I have been working on [National Ambient Air Quality Standards] for over 30 years and have yet to see anything like this."
Earlier this year there were two other suits: The first was brought by several states and groups challenging Johnson's decision to deny California's attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, a decision that ran counter to the unanimous recommendation of his legal and scientific staff. The second suit seeks to force the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gases can be limited by the Clean Air Act. EPA staff recommended late last year that greenhouse gases should be regulated, but Johnson never issued a formal ruling and has been accused of stalling.