WH invokes ‘executive privelege’ in showdown with Congress, GOP governor

EPA spokesman Tim Lyons … called it “disappointing” that the committee had decided to “politicize environmental regulations.”

From the LA Times, today:

White House invokes executive privilege in EPA inquiry

The Bush administration refuses to turn over subpoenaed documents related to the agency’s decision to prevent California from enacting stricter emissions standards than the federal government.

WASHINGTON — Escalating a fight with Democrats on Capitol Hill, the White House on Friday invoked executive privilege in refusing to turn over documents to a congressional committee investigating the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to deny California permission to implement its own vehicle emission standards.

The Bush administration asserted executive privilege hours before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was to vote on whether to bring contempt-of-Congress proceedings against EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson and Susan Dudley, administrator of regulatory affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget, for refusing to turn over subpoenaed documents.

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It is indeed disappointing that environment regulation gets trumped by politics. But Congress is inherently political, while the EPA is allegedly not.

The EPA is suppose to base its decision on science, not kowtow to a political agenda.  Its mission is to uphold and enforce the nation’s environmental laws, set forth by Congress, not intimidate scientists and fudge facts to facilitate it’s corporate sponsors.  

The agency contends that what is does is:

EPA leads the nation’s environmental science, research, education and assessment efforts.

Under the Bush Administation, however, politics have seemingly crept into every environmental decision, from considering species for listing under the Endangered Species Act (causing at least one lead political appointee at the US Fish and Wildlife Service to resign), to gutting the BLM field staff’s recommendations on protecting critical environmental areas on Colorado’s Roan Plateau.  And its not just the environment that suffers: FEMA, the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and the FDA (among a long list of others) have all suffered because of politics trumping competence.

For dedicated scientists and other professionals in our nation’s tax-funded agencies, this has become an issue of increasing concern.

From Biodiesel Magazine:

The survey was titled “Interference at the EPA: Science and Politics at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” Conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, it concluded that 889 of 1,600 EPA scientists (60 percent) experienced at least one incident of political interference during the past five years.

Apparently, political appointees have edited scientific documents, manipulated scientific assessments and maybe altered the science behind EPA regulations. Furthermore, 409 EPA veterans (43 percent) who had worked at the agency for more than 10 years said interference occurred more often in the past five years than in the previous five-year period. (For a copy of the report, visit www.ucsusa.org.)

The broad claim of ‘executive privilege’ and Bush’s sweeping interpretation of the unitary emperor executive is not new.  It has in fact been a theme of this lawless administration, from the so-called signing statements (asserting authority to ignore an equal branch of government) to the politicization of all levels and agencies of the executive branch.

From Time Magazine:

The Office of Personnel Management’s Plum Book, published at the start of each presidential Administration, shows that there are more than 3,000 positions a President can fill without consideration for civil service rules. And Bush has gone further than most Presidents to put political stalwarts in some of the most important government jobs you’ve never heard of, and to give them genuine power over the bureaucracy. “These folks are really good at using the instruments of government to promote the President’s political agenda,” says Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University and a well-known expert on the machinery of government. “And I think that takes you well into the gray zone where few Presidents have dared to go in the past. It’s the coordination and centralization that’s important here.”

There is a lot at stake when an administration places its cronies in positions of public trust.

For an EPA spokesperson–given the Bush Administration’s record on appointing ill-suited (‘Doing a Heckuva Job’) yes-men–to blast Congress for political meddling in environmental regulations, when they are merely exercising their oversight obligations as a co-equal branch of government, would be laughable if so much was not at stake.

From the Washington Independent:

I’m not arguing against the broader claim that the administration has been insanely uncooperative with Congressional investigators. The point is that claiming executive privilege is a big deal. It shows what’s at stake in the White House guarding its secrecy about influencing the EPA’s science-based decisions.

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