ALEX CHADWICK, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, measuring climate change. At the seaside edge of a doomed Alaskan village, there are many others like it, a report from Elisabeth Arnold, including this voice.
Ms. DEBORAH WILLIAMS (Former Department Official, Alaska Conservation Solutions): The least equipped to address the consequences of global warming are the people first victimized. And, secondly, the global warming consequences are extraordinarily expensive.
CHADWICK: First, a growing controversy over what government regulators should do about climate change. Senior Democrats in Congress say the White House, and Vice President Cheney, are blocking a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to begin regulating the greenhouse gases that are blamed for warming. An EPA email leaked out this week, instructing everyone at the Agency not to answer questions from the press or Congress, or even the Agency's own Inspector General.
Dow Jones reporter, Siobhan Hughes, is following the story for the Wall Street Journal. Siobhan, welcome to Day to Day. And this actually has been building for months. Give us the background on the report that the EPA was going to issue.
Ms. SIOBHAN HUGHES (Dow Jones, Wall Street Journal): This is a report that was required under a 2007 Supreme Court decision that found that gases like carbon dioxide are pollutants, and that the EPA must decide whether this poses a danger to public health or to the environment. The EPA was preparing to respond to the Supreme Court and came up with, we understand, a finding that, in fact, greenhouse gases do pose a danger to the public welfare, and before this was released, according to the Congressional investigators, the White House kept it from coming out.
CHADWICK: The investigators say they have documents that prove this, and some testimony from people who were in the EPA then, so where do things stand now?
Ms. HUGHES: Right now, things are focused on the Senate, where Senator Barbara Boxer plans to hold a press conference later today to announce her next steps. She's indicated that her attention is clearly on EPA administrator, Stephen Johnson who, she says, gave testimony that perhaps contradict what other witnesses have said, mainly Jason Burnett, who was one of Mr. Johnson's top aides at the EPA on climate change before Mr. Burnett stepped down.
CHADWICK: So, what about this EPA order for its pollution experts to refrain from talking during a congressional investigation? The agency says actually that's standard procedure, if someone in Congress wants a scientist to testify, or even to talk to, they have to make a formal request, and that goes for the press, too.
Ms. HUGHES: That is one way of reading it. Another way of reading it is as evidence of the degree to which the EPA is really playing defense on this issue right now.
CHADWICK: Why is it that this issue has come to a head now? What is it that's going on there?
Ms. HUGHES: Partly, it's the timing of the Supreme Court decision. The other part of it, though, is Democrats are now in charge on Capitol Hill, and the investigations that you didn't see under a Republican-controlled Congress are really gunning up. You also have a whistle-blower coming out.
CHADWICK: That's this man, Mr. Burnett, who's a senior aide to the EPA administrator, Mr. Johnson?
Ms. HUGHES: A former senior aide.
CHADWICK: A former senior aide. So, where are things going on this, what is going to happen next in this investigation?
Ms. HUGHES: Well, there are a couple of questions. One has to do with what happens to EPA administrator Johnson, and he has repeatedly said that his decision on what type of greenhouse gas regulations to come out with has been his alone. But other witnesses, and other evidence, imply that he was acting under orders from the White House, and so reporters have been asking, are you saying that Mr. Johnson perjured himself? And we don't have an answer to that question.
But the other part of it has to do with exactly how greenhouse gases get regulated, and were this finding that we were talking about to actually formally come out. Senator Boxer believes that the nation could now immediately begin developing regulations under the Clean Air Act, to begin controlling global warming emissions, and if we don't begin acting now, we're going to have to wait, at a minimum, until a new administration next year.
CHADWICK: This has been a central, central issue in the whole debate about climate change, for years. Should the Environmental Protection Agency regulate these gases, or not?
Ms. HUGHES: I can tell you that a lot of businesses would prefer that the EPA not regulate these emissions under the Clean Air Act. The oil industry, in particular, is opposed to EPA regulations, and there are a lot of people who would prefer that Congress come up with some solution that they feel is better suited to all aspects of the economy. If you're the panel of U.N. scientists, what you say is, absolutely, the country must start regulating emissions now, because, otherwise, some of the damage to the environment that we've seen already is only going to get worse, and emissions must decline by between 50 to 85 percent by the year 2050.
CHADWICK: Dow Jones reporter, Siobhan Hughes, speaking with us from Washington. Siobhan, thank you.
Ms. HUGHES: Thank you.