What most Americans didn't see today (and won't see tonight on their local news) was a struggling attempt by Stephen Johnson, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator to explain why he ruled again California's request of a waiver of the Clean Air Act (in order for the state to implement tougher greenhouse regulations than the federal standard). A decision he apparently overruled his own staff to make.


   For seven years the Bush administration has shown minimal leadership on environmental issues and as a result the US continues to rank near the bottom among developed countries in fighting global warming (and we're still the number one emitter of CO2).  Johnson spent hours this morning trying to explain how even though years of waivers have been granted to California, this one was different because it addresses a global issue (Duh!).


   And it's much bigger than California, since fifteen other states will be allowed to adopt the tougher standard if our waiver is granted, about half the US population will be affected.


 The only arguments against the California waiver came from Senator James Inholfe of Oklahoma, who says the jury's still out on what causes global warming (which would be a perfectly reasoned argument if you'd been unconscious for a decade or so), and Mike Cox, the Attorney General for the state of Michigan (who sounded more like a lobbyist for the auto industry).


   Johnson maintains we're better off with a federal solution (after all they move so nimbly on environmental issues) than a patchwork of local regulations. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey said "If there was a big fire in California that was fouling the air in states to the East, would you say "Don't put out the fire.or should the state jump to the fact that there's an imminent danger to health and property"? Johnson answered with bureaucratic boilerplate and said he made a "legally defensible decision".  Maybe, but was it morally defensible?


   As it turns out, it probably won't even be legally defensible, California is already suing the EPA and is expected to win.the problem is time, it took the EPA two years to make a ruling and it will take more time for the case to wind through the courts, and for the changes to be implemented if the suit is successful. And global warming isn't waiting.


   Just for the record, I'm neither a Democrat nor a Republican, I've always been an Independent, but if the Democrats regain the White House as seems likely, the EPA's charter needs to be rewritten, and the new Administrator should understand his job is to protect the people of this country, not big industry.