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Congressional investigators seek to question EPA staff about greenhouse gas waiver denial

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    WASHINGTON — A key House Democrat said Monday he plans to question EPA officials about why the agency refused to allow California to require reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.
    At least 16 other states were prepared to implement the same limits had the government issued the waiver California needed to set the standards, which would have been the first in the nation.
    Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson naming seven high-level managers he wants to interview. They include Margo Oge, director of the office of transportation and air quality, and Brian McLean, director of the office of atmospheric programs.
    Waxman wants EPA to agree to a schedule for transcribed interviews or depositions by Wednesday. EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said the agency would work with Waxman’s committee to schedule the meetings.
    EPA has missed deadlines set by Waxman and Sen. Barbara Boxer to turn over documents supporting the waiver denial. EPA says it is still working to collect the documents. Waxman asked EPA to establish by Wednesday mutually agreeable deadlines to produce the records
    Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate’s environment committee, has threatened to try to subpoena the records, but she can’t do so without the consent of at least two Republicans on her committee. Waxman, however, has unilateral authority to conduct depositions by invitation or subpoena after consulting with the top Republican on his committee.
    Waxman said that because Johnson’s conduct is being examined by his committee, EPA lawyers can be present for the transcribed interviews only if they certify they are acting specifically as counsel for the witnesses rather than for the agency as a whole.
    When EPA denied California’s waiver request last month, it said that Congress’ new fuel efficiency law was a better way to go. California contends that its law, which would have forced automakers to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, is stronger and takes effect more quickly than the new federal law.
    The federal law would raise fuel economy standards nationwide to an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020 while California says its law would result in standards of 36.8 mpg four years earlier, an analysis EPA disputes.
    California has sued the federal government over the issue. Government officials familiar with the decision have said Johnson overruled a consensus among EPA’s legal and technical staff that denying the waiver was unlikely to stand up in court.
    Twelve other states — Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — have adopted California’s tailpipe emissions laws. The governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah have said they also plan to adopt them, and the rules were also under consideration elsewhere.

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