As a liberal columnist, criticizing the antics of the Bush administration could understandably be viewed as an exercise in overkill. There has been so much to critique over the years; the challenge is to not make their actions the default position when deciding on a topic to write about.
But the Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to deny California and 16 other states the right to set their own standards for carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles is so outlandish and brazenly political that it warrants comment.
The official rationale for the EPA decision was uniformity. "The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution -- not a confusing patchwork of state rules," EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson told reporters on a conference call. "I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone."
On its surface, Johnson's argument sounds plausible. Why have something as important as environmental policy fractured into 50 unequal parts? Such, however, is not the case.
As it has been previously reported, the emissions standards California proposed in 2004 -- but which were never approved by the federal government -- would have forced automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, with the cutbacks to begin in 2009 models.
That would have translated into roughly 43 miles per gallon for cars and some light trucks and about 27mpg for heavier trucks and sport utility vehicles
The new federal law will require automakers to meet a 35-mile-per-gallon standard for cars and trucks sold in the United States by 2020. It does not address carbon dioxide emissions, but such emissions would be reduced as cars were forced to become more fuel-efficient.
The California standards not only raise the fuel-efficient bar, it is more expansive, and would require automakers to achieve their goals sooner rather than later.
California and 16 other states want to strengthen emission standards and the federal government says, "No, we must have uniformity!"
Furthering the absurdity of the administration's uniformity argument, Sen. Dianne Feinstein had language in the recent energy bill, which the president signed, stating that in no way should this bill diminish California's rights to get a waiver.
Doesn't this sound reminiscent of the administration's 2003 "Clear Skies Initiative" that actually loosened restrictions on mercury contamination, acid rain and global warming?
Though the waiver would have only included 17 states, because they were among the highest populated in the country, it would have covered at least half of all vehicles sold in the United States. The EPA ruling appears to be a successful lobbying effort by the big three automakers to delay the inevitable.
By denying California's request, the Bush administration becomes the largest enabler of an unhealthy status quo. When presented with the choice between the best interest of nation and those of certain special interests, the latter once again proved to be the victor.
This is emblematic of our politics, regardless of party. Key special interests that pay for the privilege to sit at the table possess undo sway over public policy.
I understand the resistance to change. Change by its very nature is inconvenient lest it would be called the status quo. But if we wait until the automobile manufacturers, which are among the largest contributors to the problem, decide when the time is right to change, that indeed will be too late.
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist.
E-mail him at email@example.com or leave a message at 510- 208-6417.