Last week, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee held a hearing featuring EPA Office of Air & Radiation chief Janet McCabe, on the subject of EPA’s climate regulations. During his five minutes of questions, Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana) pursued a line of inquiry regarding the outsized role played by NRDC in the drafting of the Clean Power Plan for existing power plants. As reported by the New York Times, 3 lobbyist/lawyers at the NRDC wrote the “blueprint” for the regulation, which would fundamentally overhaul the electricity sector. This is unseemly because, in 2008 and 2012, NRDC spent a great deal of resources getting President Obama elected. An impartial observer easily could conclude that NRDC was being rewarded with policymaking prerogatives, in exchange for having helped elect Obama.
In pressing his point, Sen. Vitter held up a placard featuring an email exchange between an NRDC lobbyist and a top EPA political appointee, in which the former pitches to the latter the idea of the drafting a template Clean Power Plan ‘federal implementation plan’ (a.k.a. a “FIP”). In seeming conformity with the NRDC’s direction, EPA last month proposed a Clean Power Plan model FIP (discussed here, here, and here at length).
Sen. Vitter expressed his belief that this behavior was inappropriately collusive. And it was, judging by the evidence at hand (i.e., the email depicted on the placard). Yesterday, however, NRDC alleged that Vitter doctored the email to make his case. According to E&E GreenWire’s Jean Chemnick ($):
But NRDC says Vitter deliberately edited the email to better make its case. Clearly legible on the billboard is Hawkins’ advice that EPA has the authority to promulgate a FIP even before states submit their plans — something the agency announced last month it will do. But the green group notes that Vitter either puts in small print or deletes the rest of Hawkins’ email — which makes it clear that the longtime environmental lawyer is basing his advice to Goffman on the D.C. Circuit court’s decision related to the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The court “discussed in an approving manner” the decision by President George W. Bush’s EPA to write a FIP for its rule limiting emissions that cross state lines. But Vitter omitted Hawkins’ reference to that case, apparently because it would undercut Vitter’s charge that the Obama administration is colluding with environmental groups… “We thought it was very selective editing, to put it politely,” [NRDC’s federal communications director said.
Thus, NRDC claims that the email exchange wasn’t collusive, because the NRDC lawyer based his request on a recent court interpretation of the Clean Air Act, rather than the statute itself. This is patently ridiculous. Per NRDC (as reported), it’s not collusive if an NRDC lawyer bases a request to EPA on a court’s interpretation of the law, but it is collusive were NRDC to base its request on the law, per se. Again, this is a nonsensical distinction. That this thin soup is NRDC’s best defense to Sen. Vitter’s charge suggests that the allegation is well founded.