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White House influenced EPA in emission waiver rejection: US House panel report

[JURIST] The White House played a "significant role" in a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] to reject California's request for a waiver [JURIST news archive] allowing the state to impose stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards on cars and light duty trucks, a Majority Staff report [PDF text] by the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [official website] suggested Monday. According to the report, the California waiver:

had unanimous support among the career EPA staff and was backed at least in part by EPA Administrator Johnson. What the record does not answer, however, is why the California petition was denied given the strong support inside EPA.

It appears that the White House played a significant role in the reversal of the EPA position. This raises questions about the basis for the White House actions. The Clean Air Act contains specific standards for considering California's petition. It would appear to be inconsistent with the President's constitutional obligation to faithfully execute the laws of the United States if the President or his advisers pressured Administrator Johnson to ignore the record before the agency for political or other inappropriate reasons.
The Committee found that, despite staff support, the waiver was rejected after EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson [official profile] met with unnamed White House officials.

Also Monday, the Committee released testimony [transcript, PDF] of EPA official Jason Burnett in which he confirmed that EPA agents has met with White House officials, but refused to disclose the details of that communication. The Committee has also issued a subpoena to compel the EPA to turn over documents [JURIST report] relating to the White House's role in the decision. McClatchy-Tribune has more.

The California standards would have required car manufacturers to cut emissions by 25 percent for cars and light trucks, and 18 percent for SUVs, starting with the 2009 model year. California's Air Resources Board [official website] adopted the greenhouse gas standards in 2004 [press release], but it could not mandate them unless the EPA granted a waiver of the lighter Federal Clean Air Act (CAA) [text] standards. California is the only state permitted to seek a waiver under the CAA, but if granted, other states have the option of choosing between the federal standards and those of California. At least 11 states had indicated that they would follow the California standard. This is the first time that the EPA has denied California a waiver since Congress established the state's right to seek CAA waivers in 1967.

5/21/08 - Johnson testified [prepared statement, PDF] in front of the House Oversight Committee Tuesday, but refused to answer questions [AP report] concerning White House involvement in the EPA decision making process. Johnson also refused to provide a number of subpoenaed documents relating to the California emissions controversy.

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