WASHINGTON – Environmental Protection Agency officials met with Senate aides Wednesday as they tried to avoid a subpoena for agency documents on a Bush administration proposal to relax pollution controls on some coal-burning power plants.
The chairman of the Senate Environment Committee said he would decide Thursday whether to ask his committee to issue the subpoena to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.
Sen. James M. Jeffords, I-Vt., said he had the votes to compel Whitman to appear before the committee on July 11 if she does not provide the documents and e-mails sought.
"I still hope we don't have to issue subpoenas," he said in an interview. "The information is extremely important to understand why the administration has withheld information which could help us out. We're talking about the lives of people and the impact of pollution that comes from power plants and can result in death."
The skirmish is the latest in an effort by Congress to learn what information the administration has relied on in forming its energy and environmental policies.
Earlier this year, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, sued Vice President Dick Cheney to obtain e-mails and other documents involved in Bush's energy policy proposals.
EPA Associate Administrator Edward D. Krenik wrote Jeffords in May to say he was providing about 700 pages of documents and spreadsheets on the "New Source Review" program, including some blacked-out material about pending enforcement cases against utilities.
But he said the agency was withholding some documents on power plant emissions estimates and analyses of potential reductions, including proposals made during confidential legal negotiations.
EPA officials also have said they will wait to give more information to the committee until after the White House Office of Management and Budget finishes reviewing the proposed rule changes, which could take up to three months.
In May, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., issued the first congressional subpoenas to the administration for what he called stonewalling on demands for Enron Corp. records.
The subpoena to Whitman, which has been prepared, seeks all documents in its Washington, D.C., and North Carolina offices analyzing or discussing the effects the EPA's decision would have on future emissions under the Clean Air Act.
That includes the administration's deliberations, the role the utility industry played in shaping the new rules, and the projected impact on air quality and enforcement efforts.