WASHINGTON — Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen Johnson has declined to explain before Congress how a conclusion he made last year that global warming put the public in danger could lead to a decision not to regulate greenhouse gases.
In a 28-page document the White House and EPA have refused to release, the agency last December said global warming could endanger public welfare, according to excerpts released Thursday by a Senate committee. The hearing, which was going to examine the role of the White House in EPA decisions, particularly on global warming, was canceled.
The White House allowed the Senate Environment Committee's staff to examine the draft findings Wednesday night. The panel's chairwoman, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., released brief excerpts from it Thursday.
"Given the stated vulnerabilities, risks and impacts from climate change on air quality, agriculture, forestry, water resources, ecosystems, coastal areas, the energy sector, infrastructure ..., the administrator is proposing to find that elevated levels of greenhouse gas concentrations may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public welfare," the senator's office quoted the document as saying.
A Supreme Court ruled last year that such a finding would compel the agency to begin regulating greenhouse gases from motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act. The Bush administration never officially published the document, and in December, according to accounts from a former top official, the White House Budget Office refused to open it when it was sent over in an e-mail.
Boxer said the document confirmed that Johnson had concluded that greenhouse gases posed a threat to the public and that EPA should act. "It is clear. It is chilling. It is detailed," she said in a statement.
Johnson made no determination on global warming's risks in a formal notice earlier this month. The notice laid out a range of options that could be taken under the Clean Air Act but concluded that the 1970 law was not the right way to regulate greenhouse gases. Days later, EPA released scientific evidence compiled by its staff outlining the dangers.
White House Deputy Secretary Tony Fratto said Thursday that Johnson decided that an energy bill Congress was concluding would curb greenhouse gas emissions by raising fuel economy requirements in new cars and light trucks.
"He made a determination, as he is authorized to do, that there was a better way to move forward," said Fratto.
Fratto, as well as Johnson's office, refused a request by The Associated Press for a copy of the entire document, saying it was an internal draft.
The Senate committee's staff viewed the document for about three hours Wednesday night, under the supervision of three White House aides. The conditions: they couldn't copy it or take copious notes. Boxer and Democratic Sens. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota reviewed a copy Thursday morning.
When asked why the administrator refused to appear before Congress, EPA Press Secretary Jonathan Shradar said that he was busy. He also added that the administrator had testified before this session of Congress 17 times.
Republican aides on the committee's staff also examined the document but would not comment on its contents.
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the senior Republican on the committee and a global warming skeptic, called the dispute a "non-issue" and a "political exercise."
"The president acting through the entire executive branch is fully entitled to express his policy judgments to the EPA administrator, and to expect his subordinate to carry out the judgment of what the law requires and permits," Inhofe said.
On the Net:
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: http://epw.senate.gov
Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov