WASHINGTON — Some officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were so worried their boss would deny California permission to implement its own global-warming law that they worked with a former EPA chief to try to persuade the current administrator to grant the state's request.
That unusual effort was revealed by documents released Tuesday by congressional investigators investigating whether EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson was swayed by political pressure when he decided not to allow California to enact its own vehicle emission standards that are stricter than the federal government's.
The documents were released as a battle escalated between a key California Democrat, Sen. Barbara Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate Environment Committee, and the Bush administration over her efforts to get correspondence between the White House and the EPA leading up to Johnson's decision in December.
One of the newly released documents features "talking points" prepared by an agency staff member for former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly to help him build the case for granting California's request. In the October 2007 memo, the staffer says there was "no legal or technical justification" for EPA to deny the request. If the agency refused California permission to implement its tailpipe law, the document says, "the credibility of the agency … will be irreparably damaged."
Reilly, an EPA administrator in the administration of former President George Bush, said Tuesday that he asked staff who worked under him and are still at the agency to prepare the memo.
Boxer said the documents are further evidence that Johnson acted against the advice of his legal and science advisers in denying California's request.
EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said Johnson received a "wide range" of advice from inside the agency. "At the end of the day, it was his decision to make, based on the law," he said.
California and more than a dozen states that want to enact similar laws have sued to overturn Johnson's decision.