Calif. air board reiterates stance in latest response to Issa probe

Source: Jason Plautz • E&E  • Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2012

California Air Resources Board (ARB) Chairwoman Mary Nichols has issued another defense of her agency’s actions to House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa as part of his investigation into new fuel economy standards, after the California Republican deemed her last response “inadequate.”

The latest correspondence from Nichols reiterates her position that the state of California does not set fuel economy standards but instead establishes greenhouse gas emission standards. Those standards are aligned with the federal standards established by U.S. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The response comes as part of Issa’s ongoing probe into the negotiations that led to the White House and automakers agreeing to a 54.5 mpg fuel economy target by 2025. Issa has charged that the 2017-2025 standards were written in secret and without proper economic and scientific vetting, which could mean more expensive and less safe vehicles.

Issa had previously sought a number of documents and answers from Nichols but said that her responses were insufficient and did not comply with the congressional request (E&E Daily, Dec. 20, 2011). Nichols’ latest cover letter and a 15-page set of responses, dated Monday, come in response to his updated request.

“This extensive documentation demonstrates that the rulemaking process to establish the National Program has been thoroughly transparent, open and rigorous, with extensive stakeholder comment and response and adherence to both the letter and spirit of law,” Nichols wrote. “The resulting performance standards are grounded on best science, and developed and vetted not only by three government agencies but also by leading independent research centers and the major American and global vehicle manufacturers.”Also at issue were comments Nichols made to Greenwire that were republished in The New York Times, in which Nichols said negotiators “put nothing in writing, ever” to protect against leaks (Greenwire, May 20, 2009). Issa has charged that this “vow of silence” is indicative of the government’s desire to keep the negotiations secret.However, Nichols said the negotiations were not deliberately covered up but were instead conducted without written documentation in ways that would “enhance mutual trust and foster and environment for frank discussion.”Nichols added that ARB staffers were compiling additional information — including possible meeting agendas or written notes — for a Jan. 31 submission to the committee.

Click here to read Nichols’ letter.

Click here to read Nichols’ responses.