WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lied to Congress about his rejection of a request from California meant to curb global warming emissions, Sen. Barbara Boxer said on Tuesday.
Boxer, a California Democrat who has called for EPA chief Stephen Johnson to resign, made the statement at a hearing on regulation of greenhouse gases under the U.S. Clean Air Act.
“You’ve shown that what Mr. Johnson told us is not the truth,” Boxer told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, after lengthy questioning of the EPA’s Robert Meyers, who helped prepare Johnson for a meeting at the White House over the California decision.
Johnson denied California’s request for federal permission — known as a waiver — to impose tough new limits on climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light trucks. That decision last December effectively blocked as many as 18 other states from doing the same.
Johnson previously told the Senate Environment Committee, which Boxer chairs, that his decision in that matter was based on the advice of EPA’s experts.
Meyers told the committee on Tuesday he could recall no EPA recommendation to reject the waiver, that all the advice he was aware of recommended granting the waiver or at least granting it for a period of two years.
An EPA spokesman disputed Boxer’s accusation.
“It’s clear that a portion of the (EPA) staff believed one way, but the administrator at the end of the day made his decision based on the facts and the law,” said the EPA’s Jonathan Shradar. “If Senator Boxer wants to actually legislate and change the law, I imagine that’s what the people of California elected her to do.”
Boxer supported a U.S. carbon-capping bill aimed at curbing climate change, but it failed to pass the Senate. The bill was meant to cut total U.S. global warming emissions by 66 percent by 2050. Opponents said it would cost U.S. jobs and raise fuel prices.
The EPA was compelled by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling to investigate whether global warming posed a danger to human health. In July, the agency released a document showing potential health threats included more heatwaves, floods, droughts, insect outbreaks and wildfires.
The idea that greenhouse emissions endanger human health is an essential part of the Clean Air Act. If a substance poses this kind of threat it can be designated and regulated as a pollutant.
But the EPA has so far not issued rules. Instead, Johnson asked for public comments on a massive report on the effects of climate change and the impact of the Clean Air Act on greenhouse emissions.
The long timeline for public comment and rulemaking on this issue make any action during the Bush administration unlikely.
The Bush administration opposes economy-wide moves to regulate climate-warming emissions, and is alone among major developed countries in rejecting the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol.
Leading presidential candidates Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, have said they would act to stem climate change.