The Reagan administration yielded almost completely to Congress late Friday in agreeing to provide access to disputed Environmental Protection Agency documents, but one of the other subcommittee chairmen investigating EPA, James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.), said yesterday that he might not go along with the compromise.
Rep. Elliott H. Levitas (D-Ga.), chairman of a House Public Works investigations subcommittee that subpoenaed the documents, said yesterday that the agreement with the White House allows Congress complete access to all the EPA records.
"We get to see the unedited versions," Levitas said. "Ultimately, we see everything."
But Scheuer, chairman of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee that also is investigating EPA, said that even the minor restrictions imposed by the White House may violate the Constitution and could set a disturbing precedent.
President Reagan invoked executive privilege to withhold documents from Congress, saying their release could compromise investigations of EPA's hazardous waste cleanup program. This led to a contempt-of-Congress citation against EPA Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch.
Under the agreement with Levitas, EPA will turn over most of the documents immediately and set up a procedure to allow Congress to examine those papers deemed "enforcement sensitive."
After the Levitas panel is given edited versions of these documents and briefed on their content by administration officials, the subcommittee still can review the unedited versions in closed session, according to the agreement.
"This charade was designed as a face-saver for the president to get him off the sticky wicket of insisting on executive privilege," Scheuer said. "We have to go through this little dog-and-pony show to get to the unexpurgated, unedited documents.
"I'm a constitutional purist," Scheuer said. "I think the administration backed off all the way, but I don't like the little face-saving trappings. The deal that Elliott Levitas cut may be sufficient for his subcommittee, but perhaps it doesn't meet our needs."
The Levitas agreement is not binding on the five other congressional panels that are investigating charges of mismanagement, favoritism and conflict of interest in EPA's $1.6 billion "Superfund" cleanup program. That could mean still more negotiations in the two-month-old controversy.
Scheuer said he would have to consult with House leaders before deciding whether to seek new negotiations with the White House.
He is a member of another subcommittee, headed by Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), that also has issued a subpoena for EPA documents.
Reagan said in a statement that Friday's agreement protects the interests of both sides. "The agreement strikes an appropriate balance in that it is consistent with the doctrine of executive privilege, while it also assures that necessary information is made available to the Congress," he said.
Levitas, while restrained in describing his apparent victory, said that it was a more favorable agreement for the House than he had proposed in December.
"The people in the White House finally realized they were in a no-win situation," Levitas said. "There was a public perception of a cover-up."
The White House maintained it had not waived the concept of executive privilege. But House counsel Stanley M. Brand said yesterday, "When you agree to let 17 members of a subcommittee and staff see a document, that's as close to a waiver as you're going to get."
Scheuer also expressed concern that the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney Stanley S. Harris had failed to prosecute the contempt case against Gorsuch because of "a political judgment" by the administration.