Issa Threatens EPA With Contempt as Team Obama Celebrates Its Climate Anniversary

Oversight chairman says agency has failed to comply with a subpoena.

Rep. Darrell Issa interviewed after Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 25, 2011.
National Journal
Jason Plautz
June 25, 2014, 9:37 a.m.

While most of Pres­id­ent Obama’s Cab­in­et was tout­ing the an­niversary of Pres­id­ent Obama’s land­mark speech in which he laid out plans to ad­dress cli­mate change, EPA Ad­min­is­trat­or Gina Mc­Carthy was left fa­cing a con­tempt threat from House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dar­rell Issa.

Issa is­sued a sub­poena in Novem­ber for doc­u­ments and com­mu­nic­a­tions between the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency and the Ex­ec­ut­ive Of­fice of the Pres­id­ent over a five-year peri­od as part of an in­quiry in­to wheth­er the White House in­terfered with how the agency re­spon­ded to con­gres­sion­al in­quir­ies.

That re­quest has gone un­ful­filled, said Issa, who says he’s plan­ning to con­vene a com­mit­tee busi­ness meet­ing after next week’s re­cess and hold the agency in con­tempt if the doc­u­ments are not turned over or ex­ec­ut­ive priv­ilege ex­er­ted.

“There is no ne­go­ti­ation “¦ ne­go­ti­ation time ex­pired long ago,” Issa said.

Mc­Carthy told the com­mit­tee that EPA staff was still work­ing with the com­mit­tee to ad­dress its con­cerns and this morn­ing held an in cam­era re­view of a pre­vi­ously-re­dac­ted email that showed there was no co­ordin­a­tion with the White House about how to com­ply with con­gres­sion­al re­quests. Mc­Carthy said the email should ad­dress the root of the sub­poena.

Demo­crats were quick to cri­ti­cize Issa for fo­cus­ing so much on agency man­age­ment, es­pe­cially since the hear­ing fell a year after the pres­id­ent’s cli­mate speech and marked Mc­Carthy’s first ap­pear­ance be­fore Con­gress since EPA re­leased a car­bon pol­lu­tion-re­duc­tion plan for ex­ist­ing power plants.

“Even­tu­ally, I be­lieve, the com­mit­tee must turn from ‘over­sight’ to ‘re­form,’ ” said rank­ing mem­ber Eli­jah Cum­mings of Mary­land. “At some point, his­tory calls on us to take on the greatest chal­lenge our gen­er­a­tion has ever faced in glob­al warm­ing.”

Rep. Gerry Con­nolly of Vir­gin­ia also dis­missed Issa’s ori­gin­al re­quest as a “fish­ing ex­ped­i­tion.”

The hear­ing also in­cluded a bit of deja vu for the com­mit­tee when mem­bers grilled Mc­Carthy on lost emails from a hard-drive crash (the same is­sue that wiped out emails from IRS em­ploy­ee Lois Lern­er). In this case, the emails in ques­tion were from re­tired EPA em­ploy­ee Philip North, who was in­volved in the agency’s de­cision to be­gin the pro­cess of pree­mpt­ively veto­ing the Pebble Mine pro­ject in Alaska.

North, who de­clined an in­ter­view re­quest by the com­mit­tee, is re­tired, and com­mit­tee staff say they have been un­able to track him down. Ac­cord­ing to a com­mit­tee aide, North’s hard drive crashed in 2010 — which was around the same time that the com­mit­tee is in­vest­ig­at­ing the agency’s dis­cus­sions of a po­ten­tial veto — and the emails were not backed up.

Mc­Carthy said it ap­peared there were some emails the agency could not pro­duce that should have been kept, but she was still work­ing to see if they could be re­covered. Mc­Carthy made it clear that it was a small set of emails and that the agency had no­ti­fied the Na­tion­al Archives of the prob­lem Tues­day, though had told Over­sight Com­mit­tee staff earli­er.

Rep. Mark Mead­ows, a Re­pub­lic­an from North Car­o­lina, raised con­cerns that the fail­ure to back up the emails was a vi­ol­a­tion of the Fed­er­al Re­cords Act.

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