White House drove EPA decision on emissions, Boxer says

WASHINGTON — Sen. Barbara Boxer released internal Environmental Protection Agency documents Tuesday that add to her suspicion that the White House directed the agency's rejection of California's tough fuel-standards waiver.

The California Democrat is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is investigating the decision. The denial has stalled plans by California and at least 16 other states to enact vehicle emission standards tougher than federal law in an effort to curb carbon-dioxide emissions, blamed for global warming.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said in December when he rejected California's request that since the effects of global warming weren't confined to the state, its release from the less stringent Clean Air Act requirements wasn't appropriate. He said that toughened vehicle-mileage standards enacted last year would achieve similar results.

But documents obtained by congressional investigators have revealed disagreements within the agency over the waiver, with professional staff members saying that California had a legitimate claim and the EPA probably would lose a lawsuit filed by the state if the waiver were denied.

In congressional hearings, Johnson has testified that he alone made the decision. But Boxer said the new documents showed that Johnson went to the White House last May 1 with briefing papers supporting California's position.

"A funny thing happened on the way to the White House," she said.

She's asked for White House documents on the waiver decision. She said she'd been told that such documents were under review, but that her investigators had received nothing.

The EPA said Tuesday that the new documents supported what Johnson had been saying, that he made his decision after a full briefing on the options.

"Senator Boxer can hold as many press conferences or release as many documents as she wants, but it won't change the administrator's decision under the Clean Air Act," spokesman Jonathan Shradar said.

Among the documents Boxer released was a memo by Christopher Grundler, deputy director of the EPA's transportation and air quality office, in which he pleads with higher-ups to approve California's application.

"It is obvious to me that there is no legal or technical justification for denying this," the memo said.

"You have to find a way to get this done," Grundler wrote. "If you can't, you will face a pretty big personal decision about whether you are able to stay in the job under these circumstances. ... If you are asked to deny this waiver, I fear the credibility of the agency that we both love will be irreparably damaged."