Driving the Future: EPA veteran's memoir on combating climate change


Let's get straight to the dirt: Margo Oge knows where the bodies are buried. Her new book Driving the Future reviews the prospects of various new technologies to address the public health concerns caused by the tailpipe emissions of cars and trucks. But the part I found most interesting was the astonishing revelations about how good policy based on science is thwarted by political hacks.

It's all a matter of knowing where to turn the screw it seems. Or which button not to push. The story that best characterizes the kind of galling obstructionism that delayed passage of more stringent air quality regulations during the G.W. Bush administration is related in a chapter aptly named "Tortured Policy." 

California, Massachusetts and other states had been pushing for limits on CO2 emissions. The  Bush administration had been slow rolling the process. In 2007 the US Supreme Court issued its Massachusetts v. EPA decision and ordered the EPA to determine whether or not greenhouse gases from motor vehicles constituted a threat to the public. This was a crucial step in determining whether the EPA had the authority to regulate CO2 and greenhouse gases along with the other harmful emissions the agency establishes limits for. 

The linchpin was a "positive endangerment finding." The EPA determined that CO2 was harmful to the public and sent the report ordered by the Supreme court, with that conclusion, to the Bush White House. 

Oge recounts the events:

EPA Administrator Steve Johnson got a call from the president's deputy chief of staff, Joel Kaplan. "Don’t send the endangerment finding," Joel said. "There is discussion over at the White House about changing course over the pending legislation."

Steve walked down the hall to Jason's office. "Did you send the endangerment finding?"

"Yeah, five minutes ago," replied Jason.

Steve walked back to his office and called Joel Kaplan. "Sorry, we already sent it."

"Can you say you sent it in error?" asked Joel. Steve passed on the message to Jason.

"Well, I didn’t send it in error," said Jason. "So I’m not going to say that I did."

Steve called back over to the White House. "Joel, we can’t do that."

“OK." said Joel. "Can you retract it? Say you had second thoughts?"

"Steve, do you have second thoughts?" asked Jason.


"Neither do I." Joel responded that the White House didn’t plan to review the email.

"Well, I’ve already sent it," said Steve.

"As a practical matter" said Joel, "we believe that if we don't open the email, we don't believe we are in receipt of it."

And that was it. Thousands of hours of work to produce a well documented and scientific response to a Supreme Court ruling and an executive order sat unopened in a White House email account, probably for the rest of the Bush administration. One of the top officials at the White House had essentially jammed his fingers in his ears and pretended not to hear our warnings... 

This passage is only one of the riveting glimpses inside the machinations of the policymaking process which directly influences our quality of life. It is a clarion call for greater civic engagement. (Excerpt edited for space).

Margo Oge is the former Director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She spoke with Electric Car Insider in March. 

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