Bush EPA Recognized Global Warming Threat

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Pop quiz: Which administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency sent a missive to the president informing him that the agency is “compelled to act” under existing law in response to “the latest science of climate change”?

Hint: It wasn’t the Obama administration’s EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson (though, during her tenure, the agency would make that same determination). It was her predecessor, Stephen Johnson, the EPA administrator under George W. Bush, who was certainly no big friend to environmentalists during his time at the agency.

In recent months, the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions has become a prime target for Republicans (and some Democrats) in Congress who raise the specter of a government bureaucracy gone wild under the Obama administration. Foes of the regulations have gone so far as to propose throwing out the very scientific finding that greenhouse gases threaten human health. But a letter released Tuesday once again makes it clear that even the Bush administration knew it needed to act on global warming—it just chose not to.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) released a letter from Johnson to Bush dated January 31, 2008, in which Johnson informs the president that the agency has determined that “the latest science of climate change requires the Agency to propose a positive endangerment finding.”

In the letter, Johnson outlined a plan that he argues is “prudent and cautious yet forward thinking,” one that “creates a framework for responsible, cost-effective and practical actions.” This is the first time this particular letter has been made public, though it was pretty well known that the EPA had made an endangerment determination but was blocked by the White House from following through on it. The White House reportedly went so far as to refuse to open an email that contained the endangerment finding and related materials so that it wouldn’t have to act.

Johnson concluded in his letter to Bush:

After careful and sometime difficult deliberation, I have concluded that it is in the Administration’s best interest to move forward with this plan in the next few weeks. I appreciate the senior-level discussions that have enabled me to develop this approach, and I look forward to working with other members of your team to discuss details and a rollout.

Of course, that rollout never happened. Instead, the Bush administration let the clock run down and left the final endangerment determination to the next administration. The Obama administration followed through with that finding in April 2009, an action that triggered the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases that began phasing in this year.

Waxman circulated Johnson’s letter Tuesday evening, ahead of a hearing tomorrow on a bill by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House energy and commerce committee, that would overturn the EPA’s finding and permanently bar the agency from taking action to regulate emissions. Waxman sent a letter to Upton as well, highlighting Johnson’s letter:

As Administrator Johnson’s letter makes clear, both Republican and Democratic Administrations have had the same view of the science: carbon emissions are a serious threat to our nation’s welfare. I urge you to leave the science to scientists and drop your effort to use legislation to overturn EPA’s endangerment finding.

More Mother Jones reporting on Climate Desk

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