The Republican search for a legitimate Obama administration scandal has gone quite poorly. The right occasionally rolls out one new controversy or another, but in each instance, these stories fall apart rather quickly.
But for some conservatives, hope springs eternal. The Republicans’ latest complaint even involves one of the federal agencies the GOP loves to hate, making it a two-fer – the right gets to complain about the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency at the same time.
In June, President Obama announced an ambitious plan to address the climate crisis by reducing carbon pollution, and in July, the New York Times reported that experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council helped provide a “blueprint” for the White House.
If that doesn’t sound especially exciting to you, that’s probably because you’re not a congressional Republican. Coral Davenport reported over the weekend:
Congressional Republicans are investigating whether the Obama administration improperly colluded with a prominent environmental advocacy group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, as the Environmental Protection Agency drafted major climate change regulations.The investigation, begun by Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, comes as Republicans continue a long-running effort to block President Obama’s climate change agenda.
To help bolster the allegations of “improper” ties between the agency and environmentalists, the far-right lawmakers have uncovered “friendly emails” between EPA chief Gina McCarthy and her allies at environmental groups.
The fact that impeachment proceedings haven’t already begun is clearly evidence of Republicans showing great restraint.
All joking aside, it’s tough to get too excited about this latest “controversy.” As Rebecca Leber noted last month, “Nobody denies that NRDC might have helped shape the rule. Obama Administration officials speak with advocacy groups when making policy, just like their predecessors and their counterparts on Capitol Hill. That’s called governing.”
Jon Chait added yesterday:
Perhaps it would be inappropriate for the administration to completely outsource its decision-making process to an advocacy group, but [congressional Republicans] are not charging that this took place. The administration’s proposal resembles but is far from identical to the NRDC’s plan. The accusation – “far cozier” – merely charges that the administration worked more closely with the NRDC than with, say, lobbyists for oil and coal.
Indeed, this isn’t at all speculative. Issa specifically said in a statement, “The E.P.A. appears to have a far cozier relationship with N.R.D.C. lobbyists on carbon emission rule-making than with any other stakeholders.”
This accusation is arguably quite true. When Obama administration officials put together a plan to address the climate crisis, they were absolutely, shamelessly “cozier” with environmentalists than polluters. There are multiple “stakeholders” in the debate, and the administration worked closer with those who want to address the problem, and less with those who want to make it worse.
Similarly, in 2011, a congressman by the name of Darrell Issa reached out to corporate lobbyists – as opposed to “other stakeholders” – and asked them to tell his office which federal regulations they’d like to see eliminated.
In 2005, the Bush/Cheney White House turned over reports on global warming to a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry, encouraging the former lobbyist to edit the official materials to his heart’s content. “Other stakeholders” in the climate debate were offered no similar opportunities.
Issa and Vitter didn’t seem at all concerned about this at the time.
Update: I talked to an official at the EPA this morning, who referred me to this piece on the agency’s outreach and engagement process.
In a statement, the EPA added, “The Clean Power Plan was developed through an extensive public outreach process – one that engaged tens of thousands of people across the country. EPA consulted with states, power companies, local communities, environmental groups, associations, labor groups, tribes, and many more. This process was a critical component in developing the proposed rule because it helped focus our attention on what was going on, on the ground, in states and communities across the country. It generated public discussion and ideas from numerous groups and individuals that helped inform our thinking. To imply that one group had any undue influence on the proposal’s development is ridiculous and absurd. There is simply zero merit to the idea.”
In reference to Issa’s complaints, the statement went on to say, “This is a flawed narrative driven by cherry picked and isolated communications that in no way reflect the full breadth and depth of the unprecedented outreach EPA engaged in to formulate and develop the Clean Power Plan. We are more than happy to work with the committees to demonstrate the facts and show the extraordinary engagement efforts by EPA in developing this proposal.”