Senators, EPA tangle over waiver request

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The head of the Environmental Protection Agency refused to say Thursday whether he’d been informed of a Transportation Department lobbying campaign against a California global warming law.

“I defer to the Transportation Department,” EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson repeated three times in a row as Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., peppered him with heated questions on the issue.

Documents released last month show that as the EPA was deliberating whether to grant California a federal waiver needed to implement state regulations on tailpipe emissions, Transportation Department officials were contacting House members, senators and governors suggesting they weigh in against the request.

The intervention by one federal agency with another has been condemned by Democrats as inappropriate and possibly illegal, but the Transportation Department says it was simply disseminating information.

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Boxer contended that the Transportation Department’s actions proved that the Bush administration has no intention of granting California’s request, which has been pending since December 2005. EPA has declined to say how it will rule, and Johnson reiterated Thursday that his agency was carefully studying the issue.

and would decide by the end of the year.

Boxer called that “foot-dragging”; Johnson insisted it wasn’t.

Under the Clean Air Act, California has special permission to implement its own pollution regulations if it gets a federal waiver. Other states can then adopt California’s standards or stick with the federal rules.

In this case, California wants permission to put in place a landmark law to cut greenhouse gas emissions, mostly carbon dioxide, by an estimated 25 percent from cars and 18 percent from sport utility vehicles beginning in 2009. If California gets its wavier, a dozen other states are prepared to follow in its footsteps.

The auto industry is opposed to giving California a waiver, saying there should be one federal standard for tailpipe emissions instead of a patchwork of regulations. That’s the same argument DOT officials advanced in contacting lawmakers’ offices in early June, according to department documents released last month to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House oversight committee.

The documents included an early June e-mail distributed to Transportation Department aides about a planned telephone conversation between Johnson and Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

Johnson said Thursday that during the call he discussed with Peters the June 15 comment deadline on the California waiver request and told her he wasn’t inclined to extend it. He wouldn’t answer “yes” or “no” as to whether he knew the Transportation Department was working behind the scenes against the waiver.

“I don’t have any responsibility for the Transportation Department. My responsibility is for EPA,” Johnson said.

The states that are prepared to adopt California’s standards are: Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. Other states, including New Mexico, are moving to adopt them.

AP-ES-07-26-07 1626EDT

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