For the second time in a week, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Anne M. Gorsuch was cited yesterday for contempt of Congress, escalating the confrontation between Congress and the White House over the Reagan administration's use of executive privilege to withhold documents from the legislative branch.
With two Republicans joining seven Democrats, a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 9 to 4 yesterday for the citation after Gorsuch, following instructions from President Reagan, refused to turn over 42 documents on EPA's enforcement of the 1980 hazardous waste cleanup act.
The Energy panel's vote came as the House Public Works and Transportation Committee prepared to refer a separate contempt citation of Gorsuch to the House floor. That measure, approved last week after Gorsuch invoked executive privilege to withhold similar documents, is expected to come up for a vote this week.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Marc L. Marks (R-Pa.), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, predicted a major constitutional confrontation between Congress and the executive. They said yesterday that they see "no legal, moral, political or constitutional basis" for the administration stance.
Gorsuch said after her testimony yesterday that she has no plans to compromise, saying that she stands firmly behind the White House and Justice Department positions that the documents are too sensitive to EPA's enforcement efforts to be released to Congress.
Subcommittee members questioned this claim, however, saying during the hearing that the 42 documents pertain to civil rather than criminal cases, and many have been viewed by outsiders who have no security clearance, including independent EPA contractors and temporary clerks.
The two House panels subpoenaed the documents as part of separate investigaions into EPA's management of the $1.6 billion "Superfund" created by Congress in 1980 to help finance the cleanup of hazardous waste dumps and prosecute companies responsible for them. They contend that they need the documents, along with others already turned over by EPA, to decide if legislative changes are needed.
Subcommittee members carefully aimed their criticism at the administration, rather than at Gorsuch, whom Dingell called "a very fine lady who is just carrying out orders."