EPA staff favored California emissions waiver

WASHINGTON -- Environmental Protection Agency head Stephen Johnson was told by staff members that California had a compelling case for the federal Clean Air Act waiver that he later denied and that the agency was likely to lose in court if sued, Sen. Barbara Boxer said Wednesday.

EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar didn't dispute Boxer's conclusions, based on a Senate committee investigation.

"Her staff has been shown all the information unfiltered," Shradar said. "What this shows is that the administrator was provided a wide range of opinions upon which to make his decision. He feels he made the right decision."

Johnson's denial of the waiver stopped California from moving ahead with its tough laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. Sixteen other states were prepared to follow California's lead had the waiver been issued.

Boxer, D-Calif., heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is investigating the EPA's rejection of the waiver. Under the Clean Air Act, California is the only state that can obtain a waiver allowing it to have tougher emission standards than those imposed by the federal government. But once a waiver is granted, other states can adopt similar rules.

Boxer said in a statement that she'll closely question Johnson about his decision when her committee holds a hearing today on the waiver denial.

Johnson denied California's request in December, saying there was nothing unique about its situation that supported issuance of a waiver. A briefing document prepared for Johnson was handed over last week to Boxer's investigators, but virtually all the text was redacted.

Investigators were permitted to look at the full documents and take notes from them, however. At a news conference Wednesday, Boxer released excerpts from the notes showing that EPA staff members apparently believed California had a solid case for the waiver.

The notes quoted Johnson's briefing memo as saying that the agency was likely to be sued regardless of the decision it reached.

The memo said that the EPA was "almost certain to win" if a lawsuit were brought by the auto industry because the waiver had been granted and that the EPA was "likely to lose" a lawsuit brought by California if the waiver were denied.

"California continues to have compelling and extraordinary conditions in general (geography, climatic, human and motor vehicle populations — many such conditions are vulnerable to climate change conditions) as confirmed by several recent EPA decisions," Boxer's staff quoted the memo as saying.