Democrats call EPA unresponsive to fuel emissions probe

House and Senate committees have increased pressure on EPA after it missed a deadline to turn over documents related to its denial of a waiver that would have let California impose tougher auto emissions standards, but the agency says it is cooperating with Congress.

In a letter Monday to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said he is "concerned about the failure of the agency to meet the committee's deadline."

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., had stronger words Friday. Citing EPA's "refusal to cooperate," Boxer threatened a subpoena. "What started off as foot-dragging is looking suspiciously like a coverup," she said. Both committees demanded material from Johnson's office on the California waiver decision by last Thursday.

They are investigating Johnson's decision to deny a request by California to impose restrictions on green-house gas emissions that would exceed federal limits.

An EPA spokesman said Monday that the agency is cooperating with both committees. "It's a significant logistical burden pulling those documents together," he said. So far EPA has collected about 30,000 documents, he noted. The spokesman said he expects EPA will meet Waxman's request that it agree by Wednesday on a schedule for producing the documents.

Both committees have indicated they will scrutinize the material for indications Johnson acted improperly in rejecting California's waiver request. In a Dec. 20 letter, Waxman said Johnson "overruled the unanimous recommendations of EPA's legal and technical staffs in rejecting the decision."

Johnson has not denied that assertion. But he has said energy legislation signed last month by President Bush raising Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards by 40 percent represents a more comprehensive approach than granting California a Clean Air Act waiver.

"I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone," Johnson said. Seventeen other states were planning to adopt the California standard if it was allowed. Before the announcement of the waiver decision, the House committee was already investigating whether Transportation Secretary Peters broke laws against lobbying by federal officials by overseeing a campaign to encourage state and local officials, along with congressional offices, to ask EPA not to grant California the waiver.

A May 31 e-mail to Peters from an aide suggests Johnson was aware of the effort. In a November hearing, Johnson said he did not recall any such discussion. The House and Senate investigations are part of a larger battle over the waiver decision. California is suing EPA over the decision.

Boxer has also said she plans legislation to overrule the decision, though she has acknowledged passage will be difficult.

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