U.S. House committee to investigate agreements made between White House, California Air Resources Board regarding GHG emission standards, fuel economy standards for light-duty cars, trucks and big rigs

GRAIN VALLEY, Missouri , November 11, 2011 () – The California Air Resources Board may have negotiated a “historic agreement” with the EPA and automakers behind closed doors two years ago, but the House of Representatives oversight committee wants to know what agreements were made and whether any laws were broken.

The committee also wants to know how and why CARB reportedly had a “gun to the head” of automakers, and why Nichols told the New York Times that during the negotiations between the White House and California, “we put nothing in writing, ever.”

The letter is the most recent chapter in the committee’s investigation into the EPA’s greenhouse gas/fuel economy regulations.

“The recent actions of the EPA have caused the price of new trucks to increase dramatically,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Laura O’Neill. “CARB’s involvement in writing the rule is appears to be under scrutiny and we would certainly hope that this investigation will lead to some regulatory relief for truckers.”

In a strongly worded letter to CARB sent Wednesday, Darrell Issa, R-CA, asked CARB Chairman Mary Nichols to participate in his newly expanded probe into the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy standards for both light-duty cars and trucks and big rigs.

Issa is chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which in the process of investigation the negotiations that led to EPA’s establishment of fuel mileage rules.

In the letter, Issa said the committee wants to know how and why a waiver granted by EPA to California was used as a threat during negotiations between California, EPA and automakers.

In May 2009, the White House held a Rose Garden ceremony to announce the first ever greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks. California spent nearly 10 years trying to enforce the standards, prompting several lawsuits from carmakers and a Supreme Court ruling.

The standards were reached after an agreement between EPA, labor unions, California and automakers. The automakers until that time had sued against such standards, arguing among other points that the single state requirement would create a patchwork of standards from state to state.

Issa referenced a May 2009 New York Times article in which Nichols was quoted saying that she and “climate czar” Carol Browner from the White House agreed to keep discussions on the greenhouse gas emissions negotiations quiet.

“We put nothing in writing, ever,” Nichols said, according to the Times. “That was one of the ways we made sure that everyone’s ability to talk freely was protected.”

Congress may never know how California obtained concessions from EPA and automakers, Issa wrote.

“In light of these concerns, I am expanding the Committee’s investigation into the activities of CARB leading up to the agreement for fuel economy standards MY 2017-2025,” Issa wrote. “I respectfully request your cooperation with this investigation.”

CARB spokesman Stanley Young said CARB is working on a response to Issa’s letter.

“Chairman Nichols welcomes the opportunity to respond to the letter,” Young told Land Line Magazine. “We do want to make it clear that, as for the claim of ‘apparent’ violation of federal law, we have federal court decisions in Vermont and California that definitively indicate that ARB’s vehicle standards are not fuel economy standards.”

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer blasted a process that would allow a state regulatory body to set federal policy.

“Given the level of incompetence coupled with blatant arrogance exhibited by CARB in California on truck emissions, to think they could be calling the shots nationally is a disaster with far-reaching consequences almost too terrifying to comprehend,” Spencer said.

California’s actions in setting fuel economy standards may have violated federal law, Issa said in the letter. Congress has delegated fuel mileage authority to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

CARB’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions involve fuel economy regulation, Issa wrote, even touting the “cost-effective” nature that CARB’s greenhouse gas rules create for vehicle owners.

“In summary, it appears that CARB and the state of California are in the business of regulating fuel economy standards, in direct contravention of the law,” Issa wrote.

Issa criticized CARB for not attending an Oct. 12 Oversight Committee hearing on the EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions rule, a hearing that OOIDA Member Scott Grenerth testified at on behalf of the Association. (Editor’s note: See below for more coverage on the fuel economy, green house gas regulation.)

Issa’s Nov. 9 letter concludes with 18 questions, including many multiple-part questions, as well as requests for documentation of the negotiations between CARB, EPA and the White House. The committee wants to know what technical research in the EPA rule was provided by CARB, which CARB staffers worked on negotiations, and whether group meetings between the agencies were avoided in favor of tightly controlled meetings.

“Do you believe that a closed and secretive process is the best approach for regulating an industry that affects nearly every American?” one question reads. “If no, explain in detail why CARB agreed to participate in such a process.”

“We request that you provide the requested documents and information as soon as possible,” Issa wrote, “but no later than 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011.”

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