Charles Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington, said there was "absolutely not" any linkage between his trade group's decision to support the final version of the Senate energy bill and the EPA's decision to deny California's request for a waiver. Territo said the industry has always stressed a national mileage standard and opposed the California petition.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D- Beverly Hills) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Thursday announced they were opening investigations into the waiver denial and told Johnson to turn over all documents related to the decision. Waxman also told Johnson not to destroy any documents.
In response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that the EPA could and probably should regulate greenhouse gases as a threat to public health, Johnson had promised to have his staff prepare by Dec. 31 a national proposal on how greenhouse gases from vehicles should be regulated.
Staff and other sources said the proposed standard cleared all EPA internal reviews and was forwarded to the Department of Transportation last week, before the energy bill was done.
But it is now unclear, when, if ever, such a proposed regulation will be issued.
Johnson ordered staff to stop work on the federal greenhouse gas proposal, said two sources inside and outside the agency.
Spokesmen for both the Department of Transportation and EPA said Thursday that because of the energy legislation signed by Bush on Wednesday, they were reviewing whether they still had the authority to set their own greenhouse gas standards for vehicles.
Transportation Department spokesman Brian Turmail said in an e-mail, "We are still analyzing the regulatory implications of the new energy law and will be deciding the best course of action shortly."
EPA staff and critics noted that the auto industry for decades had vigorously fought higher fuel efficiency standards only to change its stance in recent weeks.
"Clearly EPA's involvement in the California waiver and the federal vehicle standard both is why we are where we're at with this energy bill suddenly going to 35 mpg, which is very positive in a way," said an EPA staff person. "But that is not the end of the story."
Staff and critics said delay or outright elimination of the federal regulation on vehicles spells possible trouble for regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from other major sources.
"Once EPA makes the . . . finding on vehicles, then it opens the door to standards for smokestack industries as well," said Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch. "That's why the Chamber of Commerce and all the others wrote to the Senate. . . . They weren't doing it because they were worried about fuel economy for cars. The did it because they understand the legal ramifications if EPA moves forward with greenhouse gas standards."
Times staff writer Marc Lifsher contributed to this report.