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California's global-warming law under fire from one of its own

October 7, 2011 | 12:35 pm

Rep. Darrell Issa is scrutinizing the Obama administration's increases in vehicle fuel-economy rules
California’s aggressive effort to attack global warming is coming under scrutiny in Congress from a powerful regulatory-wary Republican -- who also happens to be from the Golden State.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has launched an investigation into the Obama administration’s actions to increase vehicle fuel-economy standards, including its 2009 decision to grant California’s request to impose tough restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

The move underscores how the political climate can dramatically shift when the party in power changes.

Just a few years ago, with Democrats in control of Congress and Republican George W. Bush in the White House, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the committee that Issa now heads, issued subpoenas to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to turn over documents on its decision to deny California permission to implement its law to curb carbon dioxide emissions from cars. The Obama administration later approved California’s request.

Now Issa has sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson asking for documents relating to its actions in increasing fuel-economy standards. He accused the agency of a "power grab" and expanding its regulatory power "without the express consent of Congress.’"

Issa expressed concern that California has exercised out-sized influence in the setting of vehicle fuel-economy rules. The Clean Air Act allows California to set anti-pollution standards stricter than the federal rules, subject to EPA approval.

"When you granted the state of California a waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, you set in motion a series of events which have led inexorably to the expansion of power exercised by EPA,’’ Issa wrote. He also complained about "extreme secrecy" in negotiations between the Obama administration, California officials, environmentalists and the auto industry that led to agreement on a nationwide fuel-economy standard for vehicles.

EPA Press Secretary Betsaida Alcantara responded in a statement: "Most Americans agree that a solution that keeps money in the hands of consumers, reduces dependence on foreign oil, leads to cleaner air and has the support of car companies, unions, environmentalists, states, including California, is exactly the kind of win-win solutions we need."

She added: "EPA will respond as appropriate and we will continue to work with all our partners to continue to move forward on this historic clean cars initiative."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was more blunt.

“It is a really sad day in America when a powerful congressman tries to stop us from becoming energy independent and free from the brutal dictators that have their hands on our oil supply,” she said in a statement.

The issue is expected to come up next week at a hearing held by one of Issa’s subcommittees.


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Photo: Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is scrutinizing the Obama administration's increases in vehicle fuel-economy rules. Credit: Associated Press