EPA Head Johnson Won't Disclose White House Contacts

May 21, 2008

EPA Administrator Steven Johnson steadfastly refused to disclose to the House Oversight Committee this week almost any documents or information about his contacts with the White House. His repeated refusal to do so may set up a legislative-executive confrontation involving subpoenas, claims of executive privilege, and contempt of Congress findings.

At a May 20, 2008, hearing, Johnson refused in the face of pointed questions to disclose any but the most general information about his contacts with the White House on three different regulatory decisions. House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a majority staff report seemingly documenting that Johnson had reversed decisions to tighten various air pollution rules after the White House intervened on behalf of industry.

Other Democratic committee leaders in Congress share Waxman's curiosity. Senate Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asked Johnson many of the same questions at a Jan. 24, 2008, oversight hearing - and got similar refusals to discuss how White House directives may have influenced his decisions. Johnson insists the decisions were his own.

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, chaired by Edward J. Markey (D-MA), planned a vote May 22, 2008, on a contempt of Congress finding against Johnson for EPA's refusal to supply documents on its denial of a waiver to California for greenhouse gas emission limits the state wanted to impose. Markey's committee, like Waxman's, had subpoenaed the documents.