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California congressman subpoenas EPA

February 09, 2008|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The chairman of a key congressional committee issued a subpoena Friday to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to turn over documents on its decision to deny California permission to implement its own global warming laws.

Escalating the fight over the decision, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, directed the EPA to provide uncensored copies of its staff recommendation to agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson before he rejected California's request to enact tailpipe emission standards stricter than the federal government's. The EPA was told to respond by noon Tuesday.

"The committee is simply trying to understand if the decision to reject California's plan was made on the merits, so I'm especially disappointed that EPA is refusing to provide the relevant documents voluntarily," Waxman said. "But we will to try to get to the bottom of this."

An EPA spokesman said the agency has not allowed congressional investigators to photocopy "sensitive internal documents," but has let them inspect them under the supervision of agency employees. "They've seen all of these documents, everything," said spokesman Jonathan Shradar.

The EPA has also turned over some documents, but they were heavily redacted, so much so that some pages were largely blank. The agency has resisted turning over nonredacted documents to Congress, contending that they are protected under attorney-client privilege. California and more than a dozen other states that want to enact similar laws have sued to overturn Johnson's decision.

The agency has also argued that releasing the documents could have a "chilling effect" on candid discussions within the EPA. Vice President Dick Cheney also cited the need to keep internal deliberations private in fighting congressional efforts to force him to disclose details of private meetings he held as the White House drafted its energy policy, an initiative sparked in part by another California issue -- the 2000-01 electricity crisis.

The subpoena comes as Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has given the EPA until Friday to provide similar records, including correspondence with the White House.

Boxer and Waxman have each launched investigations into whether Johnson acted against the recommendations of his legal and scientific staff.

Twenty-two senators from both parties are sponsoring legislation to overturn the decision.

On Friday, a group of senators, led by Boxer, also asked Congress' investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, to launch an investigation into the EPA's decision.

Johnson has said he reached his decision independently, denying charges that he was swayed by political pressure from the White House or the auto industry.

Shradar said the congressional investigations are "not going to change the administrator's decision. He still stands by his decision."

Johnson has contended that fuel-economy rules in the recently enacted federal energy legislation would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the United States, a national approach that he has said is preferable to a "patchwork of state rules."

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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