Response from DOT on Inquiry into Lobbying of Congress

July 5, 2007
As first noted here on June 13th, Chairman Henry Waxman of the Oversight Committee has been investigating apparent attempts by the Department of Transportation to lobby Congress regarding California's efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Chairman Waxman wrote to Mary E. Peters, Secretary of the Department, and included the following transcript of a message received by a Congressional staffer:

"Hi ... this is Heideh Shahmoradi out here with the Department of Transportation. I'm not sure if you're aware but EPA is currently considering a petition from the State of California to set its own CO2 standards. We just wanted to let you know that if California were to receive this waiver it could lead to a patchwork of regulations on vehicle emissions which could have significant impacts on the light truck and car industry. EPA is currently receiving the comments and the docket is open until June 15th, however tomorrow the EPA Administrator will decide whether or not to extend that deadline. We're gauging to see if your boss would be interested in submitting comments or reaching out to your governor's office for them to submit comments to the docket, since this would greatly impact the auto facilities within your district. ... If you could just call me and see if you guys have any interest, or, if you guys are going, or, would like to submit comments, or need any further information, I could get that to you. ... Thanks a lot, appreciate it, bye-bye."

Chairman Waxman addressed the issues at hand later in the letter:

Ms. Shahmoradi's call raises serious concerns. It is not an appropriate use of federal resources to lobby members of Congress to oppose state efforts to protect the environment. It is especially problematic on an issue that is pending for decision before the Administration and that is supposed to be decided based on an independent assessment of the merits. At the very least, Ms. Shamoradi's call suggests the presence of an improper hidden agenda.

Today the Detroit News picks up the story:

Feds lobby against fuel plan

David Shepardson, Detroit News - July 5, 2007

The U.S. Department of Transportation secretly lobbied dozens of members of Congress in recent weeks, urging them to join the Bush administration in opposing California's request to impose its own strict fuel efficiency regulations, according to a House investigative committee.

Using a one-page script and a list of auto facilities obtained from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group that represents automakers, staffers at the Department of Transportation called nearly every congressional member from Michigan and Ohio, urging them to oppose California's request, according to records released this week by the House Oversight Committee. They also targeted other auto-heavy districts and governors in at least seven other states.

While federal law bars government officials from lobbying lawmakers on issues before Congress, there are no such restrictions on regulatory questions, such as the California waiver.

Still, the lobbying suggests an "improper hidden agenda" because it comes as the administration is making "an independent assessment of the merits" of California's request, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the oversight committee, said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

As the article notes, "The Department of Transportation turned over 71 pages of e-mails and other records to Waxman's committee," but has also "withheld 53 e-mails from the oversight committee." In their letter responding to Chairman Waxman (pdf), they write:

"There is an additional category of documents that may fall within the parameters of your request but do not appear to be within the substantive scope of your inquiry and have not been collected. These documents relate to communications beginning in the 2006 time frame among lawyers at DOT, EPA, and other agencies concerning legal questions regarding the Clean Air Act and various pending questions."

Read the documents that have been turned over thus far (pdf) >>