If an E-Mail Is Unopened by the White House, Does It Still Exist?

The Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act made the eventual regulation of GHGs under the Act a foregone conclusion. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration has been dragging its heels in making the requisite legal findings that would trigger regulatory measures in an effort to delay the inevitable. This morning, the NYT reports on a bizarre twist in this story:

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency's conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.

The document, which ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status, was the E.P.A.'s answer to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required it to determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment, the officials said.

Now the EPA is preparing to release a "watered-down" version of what was contained in the December e-mail that outlines the government's options and will not, in itself, require more regulation.

The Times story also notes that the White House forced the EPA to eliminate certain portions of its analysis, such as the Agency's conclusion that regulating greenhouse gases could produce $500 billion to $2 trillion in benefits. If so, good for them. Such estimates are just this side of complete speculation. They are based on efforts to quantify unpriced benefits. The EPA likes to use such numbers as they can make their regulations look like a better deal when subjected to cost-benefit analysis, but the end result is even less reliable estimates of a regulation's overall economic impact. It would be better for the Agency to explain such impacts in detail without attempting to attach an arbitrary price tag.