House panel to vote on EPA, OMB contempt charges next week

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., wants documents regarding White House involvement in EPA decisions over ozone and California's vehicle emissions standard.

House Oversight and Government Reform Comittee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Friday informed top Environmental Protection Agency and Office of Management and Budget officials that his committee next week will vote on whether to hold them in contempt for withholding sought-after documents regarding White House involvement in EPA decisions over ozone and California's vehicle emissions standard.

Waxman sent letters to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and Susan Dudley, the head of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, informing them of the June 20 vote on a resolution citing them for contempt of Congress.

It would come after Waxman twice subpoenaed Johnson, in April and May, to hand over documents indicating White House involvement in the agency's recent ground-level ozone regulation, as well as the agency's denial of California's petition to institute a statewide rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes.

"You have neither complied with these subpoenas by their returnable date nor asserted any privilege to justify withholding documents from the Committee," Waxman wrote Johnson.

Waxman wrote a similar letter to Dudley about an April 16 subpoena regarding EPA's rule. Waxman and some other Democrats have blamed the White House for getting involved to ensure the rule is less stringent than an EPA scientific advisory panel recommended. Waxman issued a 20-page document May 19 to his panel members stating that the White House also "played a significant role" in reversing EPA's position of granting California the ability to set statewide limits on greenhouse gases from motor vehicles. The memo said EPA's denial of California's request in December came despite "unanimous support among career EPA staff" and at least partial initial backing from Johnson.

"What the record does not answer, however, is why the California petition was denied given the strong support inside EPA," the memo states. "It appears that the White House played a significant role in the reversal of the EPA position."

That same day, Johnson hinted at a hearing in Waxman's committee that EPA may continue to withhold documents Waxman is seeking. They include papers relating to discussions between EPA and the White House on the agency's ozone rule, issued March 12. Johnson added that, "as the administrator, I need to ensure that I have the ability to have staff come into my office and provide very candid comments and recommendations without fear of those being published or used against them during internal deliberations," noting that EPA has provided thousands of documents related to the agency's ozone rule. An EPA spokesman said Friday the agency has "turned over tens of thousands of documents to the committee. The fact is there's nothing here and they are on a political hunt that will leave them wanting yet again."