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US agency head deflects questions on White House input on waiver decision

US agency head deflects questions on White House input on waiver decision

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency refused to say Wednesday whether the White House sought to influence his decision denying the state of California a waiver needed to implement a tailpipe emissions-reduction law.
Appearing before the Senate Environment Committee, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson deflected repeated questions from Sens. Barbara Boxer and Sheldon Whitehouse, both Democrat, about any White House role in the decision in December blocking California and at least 16 other states from implementing the emissions reductions.
Johnson acknowledged having routine discussions about the issue with White House officials and others but refused to say whether the White House gave him any input.
"I value that ability to have candid conversations," Johnson said. "The decision was mine and mine alone."
"I don't know what you're hiding," Boxer said.
Johnson testified a day after Boxer, who chairs the committee, released excerpts of internal EPA documents showing that top career employees believed Johnson should grant the California waiver, find a compromise or consider resigning. Congressional Democrats contend Johnson's decision, which was applauded by the auto industry, was politically motivated and not based on science.
Among the documents released Tuesday was a portion of Johnson's schedule from last May showing a briefing on the California waiver issue and then a "principals meeting" at the White House.
To Boxer's annoyance Johnson said he could not remember who was at the meeting or what it was about, telling her repeatedly that he didn't recall anything about it.
"Do you remember what you were doing on Tuesday May the 1st of 2007?" Johnson asked Boxer.
"If I saw my calendar, yes I would," Boxer responded.
Johnson got some support from committee Republicans. Sen. George Voinovich suggested that it created problems for Boxer to be releasing the contents of internal agency documents when the EPA is in litigation with California and other states over the waiver decision.
The EPA has not actually turned over the documents but has let Boxer's aides review them and take notes while EPA officials look on.
California's law, which at least 16 other states also wanted to adopt if the waiver had been granted, would have forced automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016.
EPA has yet to publish the formal documentation for the waiver decision in the Federal Register, something that is also fueled critics' suspicions about whether there was a sound basis for it. Johnson said he plans to publish that document by Friday.
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Updated : 2021-02-28 06:17 GMT+08:00