The Heat Is Online

Bush Tries to Sabotage California Clean Car Initiative

Bush administration lobbying against California emissions plan


San Jose Mercury News, June 13, 2007


WASHINGTON - In a move denounced by state officials and others as improper lobbying on behalf of the auto industry, transportation officials in the Bush administration are making a pro-auto industry pitch to members of Congress, urging them to oppose California's efforts to enforce tough emissions standards on vehicles.


One official, Heideh Shahmoradi, a special assistant to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, left a voicemail recently with a House staffer warning that if California gets the authority from the Environmental Protection Agency to enact those controls, "this would greatly impact the auto facilities in your district."


Shahmoradi asked if the staffer's House member would ask his state's governor to weigh in with the EPA to oppose California's request. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said the state will sue the EPA by October if it does not grant a waiver California has requested allowing the state to set its own standards - which 11 other states also have promised to enact.


The Department of Transportation's contacts were revealed Tuesday when Rep. Henry Waxman, the Los Angeles Democrat who chairs the top investigative committee in the House, released a copy of Shahmoradi's voicemail. It came from a House member who did not want to be identified. Waxman criticized the lobbying effort as "highly inappropriate" and possibly illegal. In a letter to Peters, he said Shahmoradi's call "at the very least suggests the presence of an improper hidden agenda."


Waxman asked for an explanation from Peters and any documents involving her department, EPA and communications with Congress on California's request.


Department of Transportation officials defended the voicemail and said officials contacted members of Congress after receiving advice from acting general counsel Rosalind Knapp. In a letter to Waxman, Knapp said the calls did not violate anti-lobbying restrictions on executive branch officials.


Those restrictions apply to "grass-roots" lobbying of interest groups or the public by federal officials, not contacts with members of Congress, Knapp said.


Asked if it was appropriate for Shahmoradi to cite the impact on the auto industry, Transportation spokesman Brian Turmail said the department wanted to let members of Congress know "the potential implications that a waiver might have on the current fuel-economy standards program."


Turmail did not say how many Transportation officials were involved, how many members or congressional staffers were contacted or whether Peters approved the calls.


Shahmoradi's voicemail uses some of the same language the auto industry has used in suing California, Rhode Island and Vermont to block tougher emissions standards. She said granting California's request "could lead to a patchwork of regulations on vehicle emissions, which could have significant impacts on the light truck and car industry."


The term "patchwork" is frequently used by the industry to complain that they would have to comply with a wide array of state regulations. But under the Clean Air Act, California has the authority to seek approval from the EPA to set its own regulations - and states can adopt California's rules, but not different rules.


The Supreme Court, over the objections of the Bush administration, decided in April that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, bolstering California's case.


Shahmoradi knows her way around Congress. She worked four years in the Senate as a Transportation staffer, and won high praise from Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., last month for her work on transportation funding bills.


Her voicemail seemed to deviate from the administration's official "no position" on how, or whether, the EPA will enforce regulations on carbon-dioxide emissions, and whether it will allow California to do so.


Last week, EPA administrator Stephen Johnson said he would not decide how his agency will interpret or enforce the Supreme Court ruling until late next year, and he would not say when he will decide on California's request.


Under sharp questioning from Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who chairs a special committee on global warming, Johnson said he had "no position" on one proposal in Congress that would remove the EPA's authority, and that of the states, to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions.


Several California officials Tuesday blasted the Transportation Department's calls to Congress. The state's request "is not and should never be a political decision," said a spokesman for Schwarzenegger, Adam Mendelsohn. "One agency of the administration is lobbying to kill our waiver request while the other is supposed to be making an objective decision?"


Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu`ñez said the contacts "expose the president's recent attempts to appear reasonable on global warming." He said the phone calls are "a whispering campaign to try to derail one of the most important tools out there to fight global warming."


In Congress, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she would contact the Transportation Department to question officials about their involvement. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, a member of the Energy Committee, said, "It's outrageous for the DOT to be lobbying this way when the states are taking the lead on energy policy."


The Department of Transportation's effort to sound a warning over California's regulations comes at a sensitive time on Capitol Hill, with debate heating up over energy bills in both houses. The Senate is considering a wide-ranging bill this week that includes higher fuel-efficiency standards, a big increase in biofuel use and higher efficiency standards for federal buildings and vehicles.


In the House, two veteran Democrats - John Dingell of Michigan, who chairs the Energy Committee, and Rick Boucher of Virginia - are pushing a proposal with more modest fuel-economy standards and a provision to remove the states' authority over global warming pollution from vehicles.