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Browner Departure Just Another Sign That Obama Is In Full Retreat

Scott Segal, an energy expert at Bracewell & Giuliani, a law and lobbying firm in Washington, said Ms. Browner’s leaving might be a sign that the administration would be more sensitive to the concerns of business.    NY Times Director of Policy on Climate Will Leave, Her Goal Unmet

I don’t like to delve into the national scene, but sometimes the “I told you so” factor is too sweet to resist.

From the outset of the Obama Administration, we have been highly skeptical and publicly critical of the environmental policy agenda.

That skepticism initially was based on selection of Lisa Jackson as EPA Administrator, a nice person, but long on rhetoric and short on delivery (and we never had high regard for recycled Clintonite, Carol Browner. But we have high regard for EPA Region 2 Administrator Judy Enck).

We agreed with Jeffrey St. Clair, who was the only one to puncture the spin about “Obama’s Green Team” (see “Obama’s Used Green Team“)

Our concerns have been confirmed repeatedly by EPA’s actions since then.

For example, just yesterday, Jeff Ruch, PEER national Director, wrote Jackson to complain of the failure of EPA to enact scientific integrity policies, concluding:

As you know, PEER opposed your confirmation as EPA Administrator based upon your record as Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). One of our principal concerns was that you repeatedly did not follow through on promises you made for action at DEP, leaving a trail of unfulfilled rhetorical commitments. We see a repetition of this same pattern durign your tenure at EPA.

So the fact that Obama’s “ambitious goals”  have achieved – at best – what the New York Times today characterized as “modest policy gains“ – and that the Administration is now backtracking on the environment, comes as no surprise to us, nor should it to anyone else who is paying attention.

And the NY Times apparently is not aware that almost all of the promised regulations that support their claim of “modest policy gains” remain just promises and have not been finalized and formally adopted. So there is still lots of backtracking to be done before 2012.

In a larger sense, today’s story about the departure of Carol Browner – White House “Energy Czar” – was no surprise. It was preceded by several obvious signals of retreat, not the least of which was the collapse of cap and trade (which we viewed as a good thing, but done for the wrong reasons).

Just last week, Obama issued an Executive Order on Regulatory Review, which parroted right wing talking points about regulation.

But even before that Executive Order, and before his selection of a new corporate Chief of Staff, and before his appointment of GE CEO to head the economic development team, back in December, Obama made an announcement he would atttend a CEO summit, about which we wrote (see:  Obama CEO Summit Explains EPA Regulatory Retreat

Growing more republican every day, last Thursday, the New York Times reported that the Obama EPA was walking away from major regulations, just at the critical moment when EPA needed to ramp up regulations to address global warming in light of Republican intransigence and global warming denial in Congress.

As we again wrote more recently, 

We started in the wake of Obama’s disaster at the global warming treaty collapse at Copenhagen; with deep disappointment with Congressional Democrats’ inability to enact real reforms despite huge majorities in both Houses; and under a dark cloud cast by the election of  NJ Governor Chris Christie.

Some may think that Browner’s departure is no big deal because EPA has announced plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. 

Well, we hate to burst anyone’s bubble (again), but EPA’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from refineries and power plants are hollow.We mean that literally. 

Contrary to how it was presented in the press and praised by environmental groups, EPA’s GHG “tailoring rule” was expressly presented as regulatory relief,  and explicitly designed to protect industry from harsh regulation. The EPA proposal states:  

This rulemaking is necessary because without it PSD and title V requirements would apply, as of January 2, 2011, at the 100 or 250 tons per year (tpy) levels provided under the CAA, greatly increasing the number of required permits, imposing undue costs on small sources, overhelming the resources of permitting authorities, and severely impairing the functioning of the programs. EPA is relieving these resource burdens by phasing in the applicability of these programs to GHG sources, starting with the larget GHG emitters.

While regulating largest sources first may seem to make administrative sense, it makes no sense at all from a global warmign standpoint, where the concern is the cumulative impact of emissions from many sources, large and small. In fact, EPA’s approach makes no sense, and is a bigger strategic mistake than Congress’s grandfathering of all those dirty coal power plants in the original 1970 Celan Air Act, a case of original sin we are still living with. 

But things are actually worse, because EPA proposed consideration of an “empty permit” (see page 31,517). An “empty permit” is just what its name implies – a joke, with no requirements at all, and issued soley to legally protect polluters. EPA stated: 

We intend to consider the issue of applicability of title V to GHG sources without applicable requireements (i.e. “empty permits”) in future steps of our “tailoring approach”. When we do so, we will further assess the potential for the approach of excluding empty permits from title V to relieve burden. 

Lisa Jackson personally issued the so called “Jackson memo” that set the groundwork for all this. That memo amounts to more continuity with the Bush Administration (arguably, it could be slightly worse). Industry trade journals report:

In April 2010, Administrator Jackson issued a new interpretative memorandum, the “Jackson Memo,” to clarify EPA’s approach to PSD and Title V applicability for pollutants, particularly for greenhouse gases, as a function of the adoption of vehicle emission standards.[12] The Jackson Memo continued the previous [Bush Administration] interpretation with one twist—EPA decided that PSD and Title V permitting requirements “take effect” for newly regulated air pollutants only when actual compliance with emission control requirements for those pollutants is first required, rather than on the earlier dates of (i) signature of a rule establishing control requirements, (ii) publication of the rule in the Federal Register, or (iii) the formal effective date of the rule, typically 60 days after publication

EPA subsequently followed up on the “tailoring approach” with an empty – literally, in this case content-less – press conference announcement of a settlement agreement to propose regulations in the future that would apply to refineries and power plants.

It has not been reported that the EPA Settlement is a weak deal. Fine print of the settlement agreement allows EPA to violate the deadlines for regulations with virtual impunity. The settlement provides little enforcement leverage for environmentalists  – see remedies in paragraph #7 .

The regulatory deadlines in the settlement give EPA another big out – thay are conditioned upon the availability of approriations and thus may be killed by Republicans in Congress who have said they will not fund global warming regulations (see paragraph #12).

Analyzing that press announcement, we concluded:

The Bush EPA rejected the Section 108 NAAQS approach as too costly and politically infeasible.

So did Obama and Lisa Jackson. Same as Bush – this is not change we can believe in.

We don’t have the time or energy to conduct a full blown 2 year review of the Obama/Jackson record.

However, just off the top of our head on the few things we have written about heere (we focus on NJ), we must consider:

Just goes to show, you gotta watch what they do, not what they say.

Obama is dominated by corporate interests.

And, as we predicted-  just like in NJ, where she caved to Governor Corzine’s political whims - Lisa Jackson lacks the independence and spine to stand up and fight.

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