Playing Stall Ball On Clean Air
May 17, 2007
Frank O'Donnell is president of Clean Air Watch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization aimed at educating the public about clean air and the need for an effective Clean Air Act.
Several decades ago, a popular strategy emerged in college basketball known as the “four corners” offense.
It was a stall tactic—made famous by the University of North Carolina—used to retain a lead by holding onto the ball until the clock ran out.
President Bush has borrowed this stall-ball strategy as a way to delay efforts by California and other states to reduce global warming pollution from motor vehicles.
The Double-Dribbler-in-Chief rolled out the plan this week, ordering the EPA to pass the ball back and forth with three cabinet departments before settling on any plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The executive order demanded that EPA seek “concurrence” from the other departments, with the White House Office of Management and Budget and the industry-friendly Council on Environmental Quality supervising the game.
“This is a complicated legal and technical matter, and it's going to take time to fully resolve,” said the president, declaring he wanted some answers by the end of 2008—that is, a few weeks before he leaves office.
Why now this presidential proclamation? (It came more than a month after the Supreme Court rebuffed an earlier stall tactic and said the Clean Air Act gives EPA authority to limit greenhouse gases.)
For one thing, this preemptive strike obviously was aimed at diverting attention from the same-day opening arguments in a lawsuit by 11 states and several environmental groups against pitifully weak Bush fuel economy standards for SUVs and pickup trucks. The administration rules would increase fuel economy by a mere mile per gallon over the next several years.
Brown is also playing a role in the second event that prompted the new Bush strategy: he’s scheduled to appear at an EPA hearing next week on California’s request to enforce its own standards that would cut greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles by 30 percent.
California adopted these landmark standards after a careful, several-year review, and 11 other states have followed suit. But in order for these standards to be legally enforceable, the EPA must grant its permission.
This ought to be a legal layup. The EPA has granted similar requests by California to enforce tougher vehicle standards more than 40 times in the past three decades, and California has put together an impressive argument why the feds should do it again.
Having lost at the Supreme Court, Team Bush rebounded with another game plan to run out the clock. It looks pretty predictable: stall for as long as possible, then (after California presses the issue in court) perhaps reject the California plan in favor of a much weaker national approach.
"The question is: do you try to set up a mandatory system or do you try to set up an innovation-based system?" Snow said. "The president prefers innovation."