House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has today released documents and testimony that show White House involvement in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to deny California’s request for a waiver to enforce its greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks.
According to testimony by former EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Jason Burnett, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson’s “preference for a full or partial grant of the waiver did not change until after he communicated with the White House“:
When asked by Committee staff “whether the Administrator communicated with the White House in between his preference to do a partial grant and the ultimate decision” to deny the waiver, Mr. Burnett responded: “I believe the answer is yes.” When asked “after his communications with the White House, did he still support granting the waiver in part,” Mr. Burnett answered: “He ultimately decided to deny the waiver.” Mr. Burnett also affirmed that there was “White House input into the rationale in the December 19th letter” announcing the denial of the waiver and in the formal decision document issued in March 2008.
Burnett refused to testify on any further specifics, telling the investigators “that he had been directed not to answer any questions about the involvement of the White House in the decision to reject California’s petition.” Burnett, who was involved in a series of questionable EPA decisions during his tenure, resigned from the EPA on May 6. He was deposed on May 15.
On December 19, 2007, the date President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson announced that his agency would deny California’s waiver request. This request, made in 2005, set off a series of legal battles that culminated in the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts vs. EPA that ordered the EPA to take action on greenhouse gases. Since then, the EPA has failed to obey the Supreme Court mandate, despite the efforts of career staff.
Waxman’s memo concludes:
It would be a serious breach if the President or other White House officials directed Administrator Johnson to ignore the record before the agency and deny California’s petition for political or other inappropriate reasons. Further investigation will be required to assess the legality of the White House role in the rejection of the California motor vehicle standards.
Johnson is expected to testify before Waxman’s committee tomorrow at 1 PM.
UPDATE: Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch writes in: “This is an incredibly sordid story. Steve Johnson should come out and finally tell the truth about this situation. And he should resign for agreeing not only to be a White House pawn but for trying to deceive the public about what happened.” Frank has more at Gristmill.
UPDATE II: National Journal’s CongressDaily reports that Johnson may refuse to turn over documents subpoenaed for tomorrow’s oversight hearing. In a letter to Johnson last Friday, Waxman indicated his expectations about the documents on the “revised national ambient air quality standards for ozone”:
Unless the President asserts a valid claim of executive privilege with respect to the documents being withheld by EPA, you will be expected to personally bring the documents to the hearing. The Committee’s subpoena was directed to you and you will be in defiance of the subpoena if you appear at the hearing without the documents.
UPDATE III: Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) responds: “The EPA’s top leadership has decimated the integrity of the agency, and allowed it to become a total tool of the White House. This report asserts that the White House was directly involved in the decision to deny California’s waiver — over the objections of the Agency’s career scientists and attorneys. This demonstrates incredible arrogance by the White House — to wholly pervert an Agency that is supposed to be independent.”
Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI) responds: “When I asked Administrator Johnson about this matter several months ago, the stilted, repetitive legalese of his answers made him seem like a man who had been coached on his answers and had something to hide. I hope he will be much more forthcoming tomorrow, and give the American people the straight answers they deserve.”