Rep. James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.), chairman of a Science and Technology subcommittee, said yesterday that he is "leaning very heavily toward referring to the Justice Department for a perjury prosecution" discrepancies in the testimony of a top Environmental Protection Agency official appearing before his panel.
Scheuer said he is considering taking the action against Rita Lavelle, an assistant to EPA Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch, because of Lavelle's testimony concerning an employe who complained about EPA enforcement procedures.
In a letter to Lavelle Friday Scheuer warned, "We are currently reviewing your testimony . . . to determine if further action by a congressional subcommittee or appropriate federal agencies is warranted."
Staff aides said yesterday that they expect that a complaint will be forwarded to the Department of Justice within two weeks.
Lavelle is in charge of the EPA's toxic waste control program, including the Superfund, which has been the target of recent House investigations that culminated last month in a vote to cite Gorsuch for contempt of Congress.
Lavelle was called before Scheuer's subcommittee last month to discuss some of the cases that Gorsuch is refusing to turn over to the House.
The information in dispute was provided by Lavelle under oath in a subcommittee hearing Dec. 16, when she denied ordering an investigation of Hugh Kaufman, a subordinate who had criticized EPA's performance in the hazardous waste area. She also denied making a statement that she would like to fire him.
But after Lavelle's testimony Scheuer produced an affidavit from Richard M. Campbell, EPA's former assistant inspector general, and a letter from Inspector General Matthew Novick. Both said that she had requested an investigation, and Campbell said in the affidavit that he recalled Lavelle saying she would like to fire Kaufman.
Kaufman has filed a complaint with the Labor Department, which last month ordered Lavelle to "refrain" from preventing him from exercising his rights. The EPA has appealed that decision, and a hearing is scheduled for today.
Byron Nelson, a spokesman for the EPA, said yesterday that he would not discuss Scheuer's comment. "It's still speculative, and we don't comment on speculation," Nelson said.
The battle between the EPA and the House has gone on for months as various committees and subcommittees have attempted to obtain documents relating to whether the EPA is doing an adequate job of enforcing the $1.6 billion Superfund, created by Congress in 1980 to help pay for cleaning up the nation's worst hazardous waste dumps.
After President Reagan ordered Gorsuch to withhold certain subpoenaed documents, the House voted 259 to 105 on Dec. 16 to cite her for criminal contempt of Congress--the first time that a Cabinet-level official was charged with contempt by the full House.
The Justice Department, representing Gorsuch, has argued that the documents are highly sensitive and should not be turned over to Congress, even in confidence. The House leadership has charged that the House needs the documents to make sure EPA is carrying out the law.
The Justice Department refused to carry out the orders of the House to prosecute Gorsuch for contempt. Instead, it filed suit asking the judge to void the contempt citation, contending that the dispute should be resolved as a civil case dealing with the limits of executive privilege.
Late last month the House argued in a harshly worded motion that the administration had mounted a "misguided attempt to restrain the operation of the legislative process" in seeking to block the contempt proceeding.
The House motion charged that the administration's lawsuit "offends so many established principles of federal jurisdiction" that it should be dismissed. "This case is an unprecedented and historic first," it said.
The Justice Department filed a new motion yesterday, saying that judicial intervention in the case is "urgently needed" to prevent "partial paralysis" of government operations.
"May Congress compel an executive branch official to produce sensitive materials from open law enforcement files even though the disclosure of those documents would, in the opinion of the president and the attorney general, impair the president's ability to take care that the laws will be faithfully executed?" it asked.
Questioned about the new motion, Stanley Brand, counsel to the House, said, "They don't respond to our argument that you can't sue the House of Representatives."