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Battle Over Clean Air Is Bound to Get Dirty

By Derrick Z. Jackson
The Boston Globe
March 3, 2009


After eight long years, our long-suffering air is already breathing easier. In just the first
month of the Obama administration, Environmental Protection Agency administrator
Lisa Jackson began revisiting Bush administration policies that some scientists
say have set us back more than a decade on global warming. A prime candidate for
reversal is the agency's decision to turn down a California request to set tough
emissions standards that would effectively create a vehicle fuel efficiency
standard of 42 miles per gallon by 2020.

In addition, Obama's climate czar, Carol Browner, recently said that the EPA
will soon finally announce whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases
contributing to global warming are officially a public danger requiring
regulation under the Clean Air Act. There is little doubt the EPA will find that they are.

In Capitol Hill testimony two years ago, Browner foreshadowed the assertive tone
of the new president by saying the EPA had the moral and legal authority to
"protect the health of future generations." She said, "We have the science; the
will has been summoned; the technology will come. Have no doubt: We can stop
global warming. Anything less would be a felony against the future."

This was even before Obama's budget proposal to raise hundreds of billions of
dollars by closing tax loopholes or imposing fees on the fossil fuel industry
and polluters. These industries, of course, wail that this idea is a felony
against profits. In an unprecedented war, industries are summoning lobbyists and
lawyers to twist the arms of senators and representatives, trash the science,
and thwart the will of the people.

The Center for Public Integrity, with data from the Center for Responsive
Politics, published a report last week that found that 15 percent of all
lobbyists on Capitol Hill now do some work on climate change, as more than 770
companies hired an estimated 2,430 lobbyists to deal with such legislation over
the last five years. It is an increase of more than 300 percent. That is 4.5
lobbyists for every man and woman in Congress.

The fierce resistance is symbolized by William Kovacs, vice president of the US
Chamber of Commerce. He told the Wall Street Journal that carbon dioxide
regulation through the Clean Air Act "would completely shut the country down."

The resistance also comes in the fine print. In December, General Motors
submitted a restructuring report that pledged an average car fleet fuel
efficiency of 37.3 miles per gallon by 2012. But in a revision submitted to the
Treasury two weeks ago, the company slid backward to 33.7 miles per gallon. It
also downgraded its 2012 goal for trucks from 27.5 miles per gallon to 23.8.
If General Motors, on its knees for another $17 billion in bailout funds,
remains this sneaky and arrogant, what will other fossil fuel-related companies
do to delay regulation and destroy the future? It is another reason GM and
Chrysler should not get another dime of taxpayer money until they get real. More
broadly, it is a reason for Obama - as much as he is being stretched by the
overall economic crisis - to signal he will not tolerate any more corporate shenanigans.

The first thing Obama should tell Gary Locke to do after Locke is confirmed as
commerce secretary is tell the US Chamber of Commerce and the National
Association of Manufacturers to send away the lobbyists and bring in the
engineers to retool America. Obama should also hold a public event with Jackson
and Browner at his side to tell the polluters that, just like Vice President Joe
Biden, you don't mess with Lisa or Carol.

Obama has to make it absolutely clear to his environment officials that he will
not abandon them, in contrast to the way Bush humiliated his first EPA
administrator, Christine Todd-Whitman, openly trashing her agency's reports on
climate change. Obama must officially declare that the trash talk of the Chamber
of Commerce and the toxic dump of lobbyists for polluters have no place in his
White House. The air did breathe easier on inauguration day. But with lobbyists
outnumbering members of Congress more than 4 to 1, a choking smog is about to
envelop Capitol Hill.

 

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