WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday signaled it is prepared to comply with a congressional request for all documents — including communications with the White House — concerning its decision to block California from imposing limits on greenhouse gases.
The EPA's general counsel directed agency employees in a memo to preserve and produce all documents related to the decision including any opposing views and communications between senior EPA officials and the White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney's office.
The documents should include "any records presenting options, recommendations, pros and cons, legal issues or risks, (or) political implications," said the all-hands memo from EPA General Counsel Roger Martella Jr.
The memo was in response to the congressional inquiries, said EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson last week rejected California's request to implement regulations on tailpipe emissions of greenhouses gases, principally carbon dioxide. As many as 16 states were free to do likewise if California received approval from the federal EPA.
The California rules essentially required automakers to improve vehicle fuel efficiency, because by burning less fuel, vehicles would emit less carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas. Johnson maintained that the new federal 35-mile-per-gallon auto fuel economy requirement — signed into law by President Bush only hours before Johnson made his announcement — achieves what California wants to accomplish.
California officials have vigorously disagreed, saying the state requirements would be more stringent than what Congress approved as part of an energy bill. Some EPA employees, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, have said EPA staff clearly advised Johnson that a waiver rejection likely would not stand up in court. California has said it would challenge the decision in a lawsuit.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — both chaired by California lawmakers — have demanded all internal EPA documents related to the decision and promised investigations and hearings.
"The two-page letter denying the waiver is unsupported by legal or technical analysis. On its face, this decision appears to be contrary to the Clean Air Act and the science," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a letter demanding the documents. Boxer chairs the Senate committee.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House oversight panel, said last week that Johnson "appears to have ignored the evidence before the agency and the requirements of the Clean Air Act."
The memo to EPA employees was made public Thursday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group that has been highly critical of Johnson's decision.
"For months he said he was basing it on the scientific and legal merits and then did the precise opposite," complained Jeff Ruch, PEER's executive director, who said his organization was contacted by EPA employees outraged by the decision.