Battle Over Clean Air is Bound to Get Dirty

After eight 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.