EPA may refuse to deliver ozone papers to Waxman

Agency administrator says he needs to ensure that staff can provide comments and recommendations candidly and without fear of retribution.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson hinted Monday he may refuse to hand over subpoenaed documents about the agency's recent ozone rule to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., although talks over the papers are continuing.

The documents are due at a committee oversight hearing Tuesday.

They include papers relating to discussions between EPA and the White House on the agency's rule, issued March 12.

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.

"We are continuing to have discussions with Congressman Waxman," Johnson said at a briefing. "I don't want to prejudge what the outcome is." 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.

On Friday, Waxman wrote Johnson that he needs to provide documents the chairman subpoenaed May 5.

"According to your staff and the special counsel to the President, the agency is withholding more than 30 documents relating to communications with offices in the White House other than the Office of Management and Budget," Waxman wrote. "In this case, the Committee has not been provided sufficient access to the information to understand why the President rejected your recommendations regarding the ozone standard."

Waxman added that unless Bush asserts "a valid claim of executive privilege ... you will be expected to personally bring the documents to the hearing. The Committee's subpoena was directed to you and you will be in defiance of the subpoena if you appear at the hearing without the documents."

Waxman wrote a letter Friday to Susan Dudley, the head of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and asked her to supply at Tuesday's hearing an additional 1,625 pages of internal OIRA documents that he subpoenaed April 16. Johnson said he, not the White House, made the final decision on the ozone standard and other agency rules.

"I know that some really want to make some intrigue and conspiracy but it's just not there," he said.

Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Tom Davis, R-Va., has challenged the need to investigate the role of either the president or OMB in regulatory decisions. Davis argued in an April 17 letter to Waxman that President Clinton appears to have been involved in EPA's issuance of new ozone standards in 1997.

On March 12, EPA set the new standards for public health and environmental degradation for ozone at 0.075 parts per million. EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee recommended a stricter standard of 0.070. Manufacturers and industry groups had urged keeping the prior standard of 0.084 parts per million.