WASHINGTON — Setting up a constitutional showdown, the White House asserted executive privilege Friday in denying a congressional request for thousands of pages of documents related to the federal government's rejection of California's efforts to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions.
Congress is trying to determine whether President Bush played a role in the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to deny California's request for permission to impose tougher air-quality regulations than federal law called for. California had been granted such waivers numerous times over the years, but the Bush administration delayed and then rejected its request for authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.
"I don't think we've had a situation like this since Richard Nixon was president," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is conducting the investigation.
An EPA official, Jason Burnett, has told committee investigators that EPA administrator Stephen Johnson had favored granting the waiver but denied it after meeting with White House officials. In testimony last month, Johnson declined to say whether he had discussed the waiver request with Bush.
Jeffrey Rosen, general counsel to the president, said the White House already had turned over 7,558 pages of documents to the committee. He urged Waxman not to proceed with a contempt resolution against Johnson and White House official Susan Dudley.
Waxman said the committee would investigate further before deciding how to proceed. "We will not abandon this matter."