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EPA limits disclosures in Calif. climate case

Invoking executive privilege, the U.S. EPA on Friday refused to provide lawmakers with a full explanation of why it rejected California's greenhouse gas regulations.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Invoking executive privilege, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday refused to provide lawmakers with a full explanation of why it rejected California's greenhouse gas regulations.

The EPA informed Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that many of the documents she had requested contained internal deliberations or attorney-client communications that would not be shared now with Congress.

"EPA is concerned about the chilling effect that would occur if agency employees believed their frank and honest opinions and analysis expressed as part of assessing California's waiver request were to be disclosed in a broad setting," EPA's associate administrator Christopher P. Bliley wrote.

More than a week after a deadline set by Boxer, the agency gave her environmental committee a box of documents with numerous pages left almost entirely blank and others with key information redacted, Boxer said.

The documents provided Friday by the EPA omitted key details, including a presentation that Senate aides said predicted EPA would lose a lawsuit if it went to court for denying California's waiver.

The refusal to provide a full explanation is the latest twist in a congressional investigation into why the agency denied California permission to impose what would have been the country's toughest greenhouse gas standards on cars, trucks and sports utility vehicles.

Sixteen states were ready to adopt the California rules or were considering doing so had the EPA approved the state's request for a waiver under the state Clean Air Act.

In denying California's waiver last month, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson told Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that the federal government is implementing its own national fuel efficiency standard.

Johnson's decision spurred several congressional investigations and a legal appeal earlier this month by California and 15 other states.

Boxer and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., for weeks have asked the agency for more information about why it denied California's plan.

She called the agency's failure to comply with a legitimate congressional request "an insult to the American people and a dereliction of duty."

Boxer had threatened to subpoena the agency if it did not turn over the waiver documents. She said she would continue her quest for all the information. Boxer aides said the agency's offer to show her the redacted information privately was not satisfactory.

EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said Boxer and her aides were welcome to view and take notes on all the documents.

"The documents are going to show the decision remained the responsibility of the administrator," Shradar said. "He stands by his decision."

Everything except the titles was omitted from 16 pages of a 43-page Power Point presentation, according to copy of the document e-mailed to The Associated Press.

California needs a federal waiver under the Clean Air Act to implement its tailpipe rules, which would force automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, with reductions starting in the 2009 model year.

At least 16 other state also want to implement the regulations.

Earlier this month, California and 15 other states sued the EPA in a bid to force the agency to review its decision. The lawsuit was another reason cited by the agency Friday for keeping its decision-making documents private.

"Further disclosure of this type of confidential information could jeopardize the agency's ability to effectively litigate claims related to California's waiver request," the EPA's Bliley wrote.