This move has been discussed for some time on both sides of Capitol Hill, but Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) finally got tired of waiting around for EPA to fully cooperate:
Escalating the fight over the decision, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, directed the EPA to provide uncensored copies of its staff recommendation to agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson before he rejected California's request to enact tailpipe emission standards stricter than the federal government's. The EPA was told to respond by noon Tuesday.
"The committee is simply trying to understand if the decision to reject California's plan was made on the merits, so I'm especially disappointed that EPA is refusing to provide the relevant documents voluntarily," Waxman said. "But we will to try to get to the bottom of this."
The EPA has also turned over some documents, but they were heavily redacted, so much so that some pages were largely blank. The agency has resisted turning over nonredacted documents to Congress, contending that they are protected under attorney-client privilege. California and more than a dozen other states that want to enact similar laws have sued to overturn Johnson's decision.
The agency has also argued that releasing the documents could have a "chilling effect" on candid discussions within the EPA. Vice President Dick Cheney also cited the need to keep internal deliberations private in fighting congressional efforts to force him to disclose details of private meetings he held as the White House drafted its energy policy, an initiative sparked in part by another California issue -- the 2000-01 electricity crisis.
Waxman's deadline isn't the only one EPA must meet this week-- Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has given it until Friday to turn over documents related to potential White House involvement, and she has now spearheaded a call for the Government Accountability Office to look into factors influencing the waiver decision.
Johnson's spokesman stood by the decision and said he wouldn't be changing his mind anytime soon, but that hardly seems to be the California delegation's point here. They're building a careful case for congressional intervention via Senator Boxer's legislative remedy overturning the decision, and both the slow pace of legal proceedings (which California is trying to hasten) and EPA's foot-dragging play right into their hands.