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The Bush administration yesterday invoked executive privilege and refused to turn over key documents sought by a House investigative committee, escalating a fight over the White House role in U.S. policy on greenhouse-gas emissions and ozone air quality standards.
Rep. Henry L. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called off a threatened contempt of Congress vote against Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson and a White House budget official while congressional Democrats decide how to respond.
Lawmakers say the two Bush administration officials refused to respond to subpoenas for documents about communications between the White House and EPA. The papers concern White House intervention in Johnson's December decision to overrule EPA officials who were in favor of granting California and 17 other states permission to mandate a reduction of vehicle emissions by 30 percent by 2016.
In March, the EPA also issued tougher health standards for smog, but they were not as strict as levels recommended by an EPA science advisory board after President Bush sided with the White House Office of Management and Budget in opposition.
"Administrator Johnson has repeatedly insisted he reached his decisions on California's petition and the new ozone standard on his own, relying on his best judgment," Waxman said. "Today's assertion of executive privilege raises serious questions about administrator Johnson's credibility and the involvement of the president."