By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The Bush administration has conducted a concerted, behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign to try to generate opposition to California's request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, according to documents obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
California, along with 11 other states, is hoping to enact rules that would cut global warming pollution from new motor vehicles by nearly 30 percent by 2016. To do so, California needs a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency, a request that has been pending for nearly two years. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has threatened to sue if EPA does not rule on the waiver by Oct. 22.
A flurry of e-mails among Transportation Department (DOT) officials and between its staffers and the White House, released yesterday, highlights efforts that administration officials have made to stir up public opposition to the waiver. Rather than attacking California's request outright, Bush officials quietly reached out to two dozen congressional offices and a handful of governors to try to undermine it.
One May 22 e-mail written by Jeff Shane, undersecretary of transportation for policy, outlined how Transportation Secretary Mary Peters orchestrated the campaign. Peters "asked that we develop some ideas asap about facilitating a pushback from governors (esp. D's) and others opposed to piecemeal regulation of emissions, as per CA's waiver petition," Shane wrote. "She has heard that such objections could have an important effect on the way Congress looks at the issue."
The next day, Shane sent Tyler Duvall, assistant secretary for transportation policy, an e-mail asking: "Are we making any headway in identifying sympathetic governors? [Peters] asked me about them again this morning. . . . She's going to want to address it this afternoon."
Some DOT officials expressed discomfort with the campaign. When one government affairs aide in Peters's office who had been making calls to lawmakers questioned whether the department was being too aggressive, an assistant secretary responded, "I think we need to be a bit careful on this." The agency's chief of staff wrote the next day, "The last e-mail isn't a good conversation for email."
In a letter yesterday to James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) asked him to "repudiate these efforts."
"If Secretary Peters has concerns about whether California's application meets the legal standards set forth in the Clean Air Act, she should submit comments to EPA making her case," wrote Waxman, chairman of the oversight panel, which negotiated for three months to have the documents released. "Instead of taking this action, however, she apparently sought and received White House approval to use taxpayer funds to mount a lobbying campaign designed to inject political considerations into the decision."
Connaughton's spokeswoman, Kristen Hellmer, defended Peters, saying "the issue comes in the context" of President Bush's call to cut gasoline use by 20 percent by using alternative fuels and increasing fuel efficiency for cars and trucks.
"The EPA administrator will be making an independent and objective decision based on the merits of California's petition and the record of public input before the agency," Hellmer said. "Outreach by federal officials to state government counterparts and members of Congress on issues of major national policy is an appropriate and routine component of policy development."
DOT released a statement yesterday saying its staff's efforts were "legal, appropriate and consistent with our long-held position on this issue."
But Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear questioned why Bush officials would go to such lengths to mobilize opposition.
"The Clean Air Act gives California the right to set its own emissions standards. Regardless of pressure, the EPA has a responsibility to allow California, and all the states that are behind us on the issue, to exercise our right," McLear said.