Congress v. CARB
House Oversight Committee probing CARB's possible overreaching influence on new national fuel mileage standards

By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

CARB Chairman Mary Nichols says her agency has done nothing wrong in working with the EPA and others to develop national fuel economy standards for cars and big trucks.

In a back-and-forth exchange in which Nichols and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, have sent each other two letters, the congressman and the head of the nation’s most aggressive environmental agency have argued about whether CARB was too influential in last year’s EPA announcement of fuel economy standards.

Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has looked into an agreement on fuel mileage between EPA and several vehicle manufacturers.

Nichols’ latest letter, sent to Issa in mid-January, appeared to take a more cordial approach than seen during their exchange last fall.

“I am happy to again provide the committee with information regarding California’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas pollution from vehicles and our role in establishing a historic national program of harmonized vehicle standards,” Nichols wrote.

She then described a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that she said “affirmed the clear distinction between greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy.”

Nichols previously revealed that 34 CARB representatives and employees had met with OEMs, EPA and agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 208 times between January 2009 and October 2011 as the fuel mileage standards were developed.

“In our previous response to your questions, we provided over 4,000 pages of documents and communications regarding this process,” Nichols wrote in her most recent letter. “This extensive documentation demonstrates that the rulemaking process to establish the national program has been thoroughly transparent, open and rigorous.”

In early November 2011, Issa asked Nichols several pointed questions about CARB’s role in the development of an agreement on fuel economy between EPA and several vehicle manufacturers.

Nichols responded with a letter in which she denied any wrongdoing and said she hoped the Oversight Committee wouldn’t re-examine arguments she said were legally discredited.

A major point of contention surrounds whether CARB has the authority to enact fuel mileage standards, and whether CARB’s greenhouse gas emissions rules target fuel mileage without saying so in the regulatory language.

Nichols had characterized the fuel mileage savings as a “happy accident” that happened while CARB strived to lower vehicle emissions.

Issa previously criticized what he called “secret meetings” between CARB, EPA and vehicle manufacturers. He cited a New York Times article that quotes Nichols as saying that during the negotiations between the White House and CARB, “we put nothing in writing, ever.”

“Do you believe that a closed and secretive process is the best approach for regulating an industry that affects nearly every American?” Issa asked Nichols then.

In a response to Issa’s questions, Nichols wrote in the most recent letter that she never stated there was a “vow of silence” concerning negotiations of a fuel mileage standard.

“I did make the statement that, to my knowledge, no written documents were ever produced that officially summarized or memorialized the confidential nature of the information under discussion at any time prior to the conclusion of the discussions,” Nichols wrote.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer has blasted the process that allowed a state regulatory body to set federal policy.

“Given the level of incompetence coupled with blatant arrogance exhibited by CARB in California on truck emissions, to think they could be calling the shots nationally is a disaster with far-reaching consequences almost too terrifying to comprehend,” Spencer said in November 2011. LL