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Darrell Issa: California uncooperative in gas-mileage probe

December 21, 2011 |  5:35 pm

Photo: Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Vista) at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesRep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House oversight committee, is accusing his home state of failing to fully cooperate with his probe of California's role in the Obama administration’s setting of tougher federal fuel-economy rules for vehicles.

Issa, in a letter to California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols, accused state officials of making statements that "frankly appear to be a deliberate attempt to mislead Congress and obstruct an official investigation."

He also demanded that her agency turn over more documents by Jan. 9 about the state’s participation in discussions leading up to the new federal standards.

The state agency has "an obligation to fully cooperate with this congressional investigation,'' Issa wrote. "I must insist that CARB take immediate action to begin identifying and collecting the documents and communications requested by the committee.''

Issa, who has the power to subpoena, has expressed concern that California exercised outsized influence in the setting of rules, complaining about "extreme secrecy" in negotiations between the Obama administration, California officials, environmentalists and the auto industry that led to new federal fuel-economy standards.

"Did you make the statement that the negotiations featured a deliberate vow of silence or that care was taken to 'put nothing in writing, ever?'" was among the questions that Issa asked Nichols in a Dec. 19 letter.

A California Air Resources Board spokesman said, "We will respond to the letter and look forward to once again explaining how California’s efforts are designed to save consumers money, increase the nation’s energy security and help fight climate change."

In 2009, the Obama administration, car makers and California officials announced an agreement to significantly reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and improve auto mileage. The agreement came after the Obama administration granted California permission to implement its own law to curb carbon dioxide emissions from cars, an action that increased the pressure on car makers to agree to tougher nationwide fuel-economy standards.

Issa was already miffed at Nichols for declining to appear, or send a representative, at an October Capitol Hill hearing on the fuel-economy rules.

Nichols, in her response to an earlier Issa request for information, said, "Although I appreciate and support the committee’s mandate to conduct oversight of federal government operations, I would hope that, especially in this time of fiscal restraint, instead of choosing to reexamine legally discredited arguments the committee would support the development of improved regulatory coordination at the federal level that generates jobs and benefits consumers, industry, American energy security, and Main Street economies.’’

Issa’s investigation underscores the shift in political climate since the Republican won the majority earlier this year.

Just a few years ago, with Democrats in control of the House and Republican George W. Bush in the White House, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), chairing committee that Issa now heads, pressed EPA officials to explain their decision to deny California permission to implement its law to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars. The Obama administration later approved California’s request.


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 -- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Vista) at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images