WASHINGTON – A key congressional Democrat on Monday accused the White House of working behind the scenes “to stack the deck” against California’s efforts to impose new restrictions on vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision on whether to permit the state to impose its own standards is “supposed to be made on the merits,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif. But, he asserted, administration officials – led by Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters – have worked to rally politicians from vehicle-producing states to oppose California’s efforts.
Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, leveled his accusations in a letter to James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The administration’s effort, he wrote, “suggests political considerations – not the merits of the issue – will determine how EPA acts.”
The federal Clean Air Act allows California to set anti-pollution standards that are stricter than the federal government’s, but only if the EPA waives a provision stating that federal standards supersede state standards. California applied for such a waiver in 2005, but the request remained in legal limbo until the Supreme Court’s ruling in April that the EPA does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Waxman on Monday cited e-mail exchanges between administration officials that he said confirmed the lobbying effort.
In a June e-mail to Peters, Simon Gros, then the department’s deputy chief of staff, advises that his staff called “just about every auto-friendly member” of Congress. Waxman said the calls came just days after an auto industry trade group provided the department with a list of vehicle-producing facilities by congressional district. Transportation Department officials spoke with or left messages for the staffs of at least three senators, 23 representatives from Ohio and Michigan and seven governors, according to Waxman.
The Department of Transportation said in a statement that its efforts to “inform elected officials about the petition before EPA were legal, appropriate and consistent with our long-held position on this issue. For over 30 years, the department has supported a single, national fuel economy standard as part of our effort to save fuel, ensure safety, preserve the environment and protect the economy.”