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Critic rips aides to gov.

After her boss is fired, an air board official says the agency is at risk in the political dust-up.

June 30, 2007|Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writer

The top staffer at the California Air Resources Board said Friday that the state's landmark Global Warming Solutions Act is being derailed -- and that the board itself is in jeopardy -- because of mismanagement and deceit by Gov. Schwarzenegger's top aides and "squabbling" between the governor's office and the Legislature.

Air Resources Board Executive Officer Catherine Witherspoon made the accusations the day after her boss, air board Chairman William Sawyer, announced he had been fired by Schwarzenegger for refusing to follow orders to limit the number of immediate greenhouse gas regulations, and refusing to fire her. The governor's office, which denied Sawyer's charges, on Friday named board member Barbara Riordan acting chair.

In an interview, Schwarzenegger responded to Witherspoon's claims by saying that it was crucial for everybody to "march in the same direction" on climate change and air quality, and that some actions taken by air board officials had disturbed him.

Saying there had been natural differences of opinion between him and the Legislature on how to implement greenhouse gas policies, he said he had asked Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), the authors of the Global Warming Act, to sit down with him and air board representatives to reach an agreement on what to do.

"We have to get together, because I know that everyone wants to reduce [greenhouse gases] but we have different ideas. So let's bring everyone together," Schwarzenegger said. "

As for Witherspoon's charges and Sawyer's firing, he said, "We will straighten out the trouble.... We just want to make sure ... that we are all going in the same direction."

The governor said one action by state air board officials that disturbed him was the decision to join San Joaquin regional officials in requesting an 11-year delay from the federal government in meeting ozone standards.

Schwarzenegger said it put the state in an awkward position when he was threatening to sue the Bush administration if it didn't promptly grant a waiver for the state to implement a companion greenhouse gas law to slash tailpipe emissions.

In internal memos to her board from earlier this month, which Witherspoon gave to The Times on Friday, and in a separate statement she wrote after Sawyer's firing, she painted a different picture.

She accused the governor's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, and cabinet secretary Dan Dunmoyer of lying about their behind-the-scenes attempts to stall or weaken regulations to combat global warming and air pollution, then publicly blaming her and her staff for not doing more on those issues.

Kennedy declined to comment and Dunmoyer could not be reached.

In the memos, Witherspoon accused the governor's office of "extraordinary and unprecedented micromanagement" on the landmark global warming act, and said, "We don't make a single move without pre-approval from the governor's office.... I believe Susan Kennedy has an unreasonable fear that the air resources board is going to drive the Schwarzenegger administration off the cliff as it implements AB 32 and is taking that anxiety out on me."

In the separate statement, Witherspoon said she and her staff were "caught in the crossfire" between the governor's office and the Legislature on how climate change policy should be implemented, with the agency's operating budget, personnel and managerial discretion all at risk as a result. Cal-EPA Secretary Linda Adams reviewed the documents and said Witherspoon's charges were untrue.

"AB 32 is the most significant piece of legislation affecting California," she said. "Of course the governor's office is going to monitor it. This is the governor's legacy."

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janet.wilson@latimes.com

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