"It may not be a violation of anti-lobbying provisions in the law, but it's a violation of anti-stupidity provisions."
Administration lobbied against state's proposed auto standards
By Frank Davies
MediaNews Washington Bureau
San Jose Mercury News
WASHINGTON - Transportation officials in the Bush administration lobbied members of Congress and governors in nine states with a large auto industry presence, urging them last month to oppose California's request to another federal agency to enforce its own, tough vehicle emissions standards.
The first information about the U.S. Department of Transportation's effort was disclosed June 12 by the House's top investigative committee. This week, 71 pages of documents and e-mails that the Department of Transportation supplied the committee were released, providing details on the extent of the campaign.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters' deputy chief of staff, Simon Gros, urged three DOT staff ers June 7 to "just hit the members and senators with really big facilities." Transportation officials used lists that showed the number of auto plants and employees by congressional district in Michigan and eight other key states.
The officials asked legislators and governors to weigh in with the Environmental Protection Agency, which will decide later this year whether to allow California and 11 other states to enforce greenhouse-gas emissions standards on vehicles.
There was urgency in the Transportation Department's effort because the EPA's public comment period ended June 15. California's waiver, if granted, "could greatly impact the auto facilities in your district," according to one of the DOT "talking points" used in the campaign. "If asked our position, we say we are in opposition of the waiver."
Rep. Henry Waxman, the Los Angeles Democrat who chairs the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said he will seek more data from Transportation officials on its contacts with the White House and other federal agencies.
"This initial set of documents reveals that the Bush administration was working hand in glove with the auto industry against state efforts to fight global warming," Waxman said. He added that federal resources should not be used against a state initiative.
Transportation officials said the campaign was "part of a three-decade-long effort to promote one federal, national set of efficiency standards," opposing state initiatives such as California's, said Brian Turmail, department spokesman.
In a letter to Waxman, D.J. Gribbin, the Transportation Department's general counsel, said outreach to Congress and governors did not violate anti-lobbying restrictions, which he said allow such contacts between the executive and legislative branches.
California officials reacted sharply to the Transportation Department's efforts. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown already have announced plans to sue the EPA if it does not decide on the waiver by Oct. 23. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has said he will decide by the end of the year.
"We are very concerned that one department is lobbying against the waiver while another federal agency is supposed to be objectively considering it," Bill Maile, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger, said Tuesday.
According to the Transportation Department documents and e-mails, at least 32 congressional offices were contacted. Most were sympathetic to opposing California's waiver.
"Do you think your boss will be interested in getting comments submitted by her office or someone at the state level?" Heideh Shahmoradi, special assistant to Peters, wrote in an e-mail to a staffer for Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich.
"Yeah, we are thinking about it and discussing it with other Michigan offices," responded Caleb Overdorff on Miller's behalf.
In another e-mail, Gros of the DOT informs two other department officials that Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., will "send a comment to the EPA and call Gov. Jennifer Granholm."
Knollenberg, whose district includes 49,000 auto workers, has been a vocal opponent of California's drive to enforce higher efficiency standards, saying it will hurt the auto industry. In March, his re-election campaign spent $10,000 on a billboard near Detroit that featured the face of Schwarzenegger and the words: "Arnold to Michigan: Drop Dead."
According to the documents, Transportation officials made efforts to contact governors in nine states that have auto facilities: Michigan, Ohio, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The DOT's data on auto plants and employees was supplied by the Auto Alliance, an industry trade group.
In the case of Indiana's Gov. Mitch Daniels, a notation on the DOT list said "industry reached out to them, but they declined to take action because it was a federal issue."
Paul Light, a New York University professor who has written extensively on the executive branch and government ethics, said the Transportation Department's lobbying effort was "unusual and unnecessary, given that most members and governors know these issues already."
"I think it's a gross misuse of taxpayer money," Light said. "It may not be a violation of anti-lobbying provisions in the law, but it's a violation of anti-stupidity provisions."
Contact Frank Davies at email@example.com or (202) 662-8921.
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