Monday, July 21, 2008
Climate Report Cites Role of Cheney's Office
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WASHINGTON -- Bush administration officials agreed that greenhouse gases could endanger the public and should be regulated under clean- air laws, but later reversed course amid opposition from Vice President Dick Cheney's office and the oil industry, a congressional report said.
The report, by the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, offers a look at the breadth of Bush administration support for regulations before such plans abruptly stopped. The report draws heavily on an interview with a former Environmental Protection Agency official who had told Congress that Mr. Cheney's office tried to censor federal testimony on the danger of global warming. It is also based on confidential interviews with EPA staff and documents subpoenaed from the EPA.
"This is the dysfunctions and motivations of the Bush administration laid bare," Chairman Ed Markey (D., Mass.) said in a statement.
The White House rejected the committee's findings. "Chairman Markey's report is inaccurate to the point of being laughable," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
For months, Congress has been investigating a series of decisions by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, including stopping California from regulating motor-vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions. Previous congressional reports showed that Mr. Johnson originally sided, at least in part, with EPA staff on several matters, including the idea that greenhouse-gas emissions pose a danger to the public and should be regulated. But the latest report suggests that Mr. Cheney's office came to play a key role in interagency discussions.
Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cheney's office, disputed the report. "I don't accept their premise," she said. The latest report said the oil industry argued against regulatory action and had the support of Mr. Cheney's office. In the end, the report said, the Bush administration backed off regulation. "Frankly, that's ridiculous," Ms. Mitchell said.
Jason Burnett, a former EPA associate deputy administrator who played a key role in coordinating the agency's climate-change activities, told the House committee that people in Mr. Cheney's office and the White House Office of Management and Budget felt regulations would hurt President George W. Bush's legacy. Mr. Burnett didn't return a phone call seeking comment.
The report said F. Chase Hutto III, Mr. Cheney's energy adviser, argued against new regulations, along with unidentified individuals from Exxon Mobil Corp. and the American Petroleum Institute. It also said that Mr. Bush's deputy chief of staff, Joel Kaplan, and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez had originally endorsed an EPA finding that greenhouse-gas emissions endanger public welfare and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Earlier this month, those officials signed a letter saying that the Clean Air Act isn't an appropriate vehicle for regulating greenhouse- gas emissions.
Energy Department spokeswoman Angela Hill said that Mr. Bodman "has not reversed course" and that the department considers the Clean Air Act fundamentally ill-suited to effectively regulating greenhouse-gas emissions.
Brian Turmail, a spokesman for Ms. Peters, said that she "was involved in an intellectual process to explore whether the Clean Air Act was an appropriate vehicle for regulating fuel-economy standards. The decision was 'no.' You shouldn't confuse engaging in an intellectual exercise with supporting the idea."
A Commerce Department spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment. American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Karen Matusic said it isn't unusual for the group to meet with federal agencies "on areas of mutual concern," and that it has repeatedly said it doesn't believe the Clean Air Act is appropriate for regulating greenhouse-gas emissions. Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said he didn't know who made the company's case, but that "it's not a secret what our views are." He said Exxon believes the Clean Air Act isn't the appropriate way to regulate carbon emissions.
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