Waxman: Peters, White House tried to block new emissions laws

| 9/25/2007

U.S Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, this week rebuked Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters for allegedly convincing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into blocking California from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Waxman, Peters orchestrated an apparently unprecedented lobbying effort with the White House to have federal employees coordinate the lobbying effort.

California is one of 12 states that have adopted laws restricting greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, though the EPA must approve a waiver before they can be enforced in any state.

The automotive industry has fought California’s plan on greenhouse gases by saying that emissions limits imposed by individual states will create a “patchwork” of laws for citizens and car companies to deal with – though that industry and the EPA have lost court battles in Connecticut and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Waxman – chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform – was scheduled to chair a hearing Tuesday titled “Lobbying by the U.S. Department of Transportation against State Actions to Address Climate Change.” The hearing was canceled and had not been rescheduled by mid-day Tuesday, an employee at the committee office confirmed to Land Line.

In a letter Waxman wrote to James Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, Waxman said he asked Peters to “provide the Committee all documents” related to California’s waiver request or the EPA and the White House regarding California’s request.

Through his investigation of documents and interviews with former White House and DOT officials, Waxman stated he learned “that senior Administration officials initiated an organized, systematic effort to lobby members of Congress and state governors to oppose California’s petition for a Clean Air Act waiver. This lobbying effort was personally directed by the Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters, apparently approved by your Chief of Staff in the White House Council on Environmental Quality and coordinated with the motor vehicle industry.”

According to Waxman’s letter, in an e-mail from Jeff Shane, undersecretary of Transportation for Policy, Peters had her staff develop a plan to oppose California’s emissions limits.

“(Peters) asked that we develop some ideas asap about facilitating a pushback from governors (especially D’s) and others opposed to piecemeal regulation of emissions, as per CA’s waiver petition. She has heard that such objections could have an important effect on the way Congress looks at the issue,” one e-mail read.

Peters offered to personally contact at least one U.S. representative, and DOT worked with The Auto Alliance to find congressional districts with automotive industry jobs. The DOT would then plan to target congressmen whose districts had the most automotive jobs, Waxman said.

“Just hit the members/senators with the really big facilities,” said Simon Gros, deputy chief of Staff in the DOT. Staff “should reach out to the govs offices in TN, SC, MO, DE, KY, IN, TX,” one e-mail read.

And the efforts appear to have come from the White House as well.

Several e-mails Waxman obtained showed that having the White House’s backing was a concern of Peters, and that the White House did not want DOT to publicize its opposition to California’s waiver request.

Marty Hall, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, would not confirm or deny White House involvement in the DOT’s campaign and said he could not remember specifics.

“At least 20 times during the interview, he responded to questions about his knowledge of the lobbying campaign with variations of ‘I don’t recall,’ ” Waxman wrote.

Waxman said DOT officials didn’t want their lobbying efforts to be publicized.

Several e-mails Waxman obtained between DOT officials included phrases such as “we are a bit concerned … appears to sound more like lobbying … looking back, I may have said more than I should have,” and “the last e-mail isn’t a good conversation for e-mail.”

“This involvement should be transparent and based on the merits,” Waxman wrote. “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. 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.”

Waxman’s criticism of the DOT appears to come at a critical juncture for emissions laws across the United States. About a dozen states have approved greenhouse gas regulations on emissions for cars and light trucks, and those states are only allowed to have standards more stringent than the EPA if the waiver is granted.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has threatened to sue EPA if the waiver isn’t granted by October.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has said he will make a decision on the waiver by Dec. 31.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer