July 30, 2008

Whitehouse Seeks Probe of EPA Chief


Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and colleagues on the Environment and Public Works Committee accuse Stephen L. Johnson of being more influenced by the White House than science.

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and two Democratic colleagues yesterday requested a federal probe of whether Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson has "made false or misleading statements" in Senate testimony about his regulatory decisions.

The senators also called on Johnson to resign, charging that he has allowed political pressure to trump scientific evidence in some of his actions on key environmental regulations.

Johnson will not resign, EPA spokesman Jonathan Schradar said, calling the charges by Whitehouse and Senators Barbara Boxer, D- Calif., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., "reruns" of charges that have been proven wrong. Schradar said Johnson has based his regulatory decisions on what is right for public health and the environment.

The senators, all members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, of which Boxer is chairwoman, said in a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey that "there is significant evidence to suggest that Mr. Johnson has provided statements that are inconsistent with sworn testimony and documents provided in connection with an investigation conducted by this committee."

The committee has investigated Johnson's decision last year not to allow California to take action -- beyond the federal regulatory framework -- to limit the greenhouse gases emitted by automobiles. Rhode Island is among states that had sought to join California in seeking a waiver that would let them pursue the emissions limits.

Whitehouse said Johnson's sworn testimony was at odds with an EPA whistleblower's testimony on how Johnson arrived at his decision not to grant the so-called "California waiver" on greenhouse gases.

Whitehouse charged in a Senate speech that a number of Johnson's regulatory actions have been swayed by "the shadowy handiwork of the Bush White House," rather than by the scientific consensus of the EPA's own staff. He and Boxer said in a news conference that Johnson's decisions have delayed action to limit global warming and jeopardized public health by blocking regulations on a number of other pollutants.

In his testimony before the environment committee, "Johnson tried very hard to convince us that the California waiver was denied based on decisions that were 'mine and mine alone,' " Whitehouse said. But Whitehouse said the Senate testimony of Jason Burnett, a former EPA official who resigned in protest, suggests that there was strong White House involvement in the decision. Burnett testified that Johnson was ready to grant the California waiver but decided to turn it down after the White House made clear that the administration wanted the waiver blocked.

"It appears that Mr. Johnson's account of the California waiver decision is factually inaccurate or misleading," the senators wrote to Mukasey. "We take the inconsistency between Mr. Johnson's testimony and other evidence very seriously." [email protected] dc.com / (202) 661-8423

Originally published by JOHN E MULLIGAN, Journal Washington Bureau.

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