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Agency Heads Lying? Who Would've Guessed?

Wow, EPA head Steven Johnson's appearance before Barbara Boxer's committee on Thursday ought to be... interesting. Here's the backstory: Last December, Johnson told California that it wasn't allowed to set its own stricter tailpipe emissions standards because… well, he didn't give any great reasons, just a lot of mumbo-jumbo. The safe bet, of course, was that the move was a Christmas gift to an auto industry that had just lost a big battle in Congress over stricter fuel-economy standards.

Naturally, there was an outcry, Schwarzenegger sued the EPA, and both Boxer and Henry Waxman said they'd look into reports that Johnson had ignored his own staff's expert advice in the decision—despite his protests to the contrary. Last week, after Boxer asked the EPA for various materials, the agency sent her a box with documents missing, pages left blank, passages redacted, and then invoked—no kidding—United States v. Nixon as an explanation for why the agency couldn't reveal its decisionmaking process.

Long story short, Boxer kept protesting, her staff finally got to look at all the documents today, and lo, it turns out that EPA staff had, in fact, told Johnson that California had compelling reasons for being able to set its own (stricter) emissions standards, and that the state could likely win its case in court. Which is the opposite of what Johnson had told everyone in December. Of course, EPA aides pleaded with Boxer not to make this info public, but it seems she wasn't feeling overly charitable.

Anyway, it's sad to say, but this is probably one of the lesser outrages of the week—compared to, say, the fact that Cheney's office seems to have magically "lost" its e-mails during exactly the periods when various administration scandals were blowing up in the press—but still, the fact that the EPA has been going out of its way to prevent states from taking their own action on global warming is, substantively, a big deal.

--Bradford Plumer