WASHINGTON — The head of the Environmental Protection Agency told the White House in December that high levels of manmade heat-trapping gases are causing global warming and endanger the American people, Sen. Barbara Boxer said Thursday after she reviewed the EPA finding, which has not been made public.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that if the EPA administrator finds greenhouse gases endanger the public, then the government must regulate them — a move the Bush administration opposes.
"This is the strongest language I have ever seen or that you have ever seen, and they are trying to lock it away," said Boxer, D-Calif., who took notes on the document and shared them with reporters. "The document belongs in the hands of the American people."
Boxer said the key excerpt was: "In sum, the administrator is proposing to find that elevated levels of greenhouse gas concentrations may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public welfare."
"Bingo" — that statement should trigger regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act according to the Supreme Court ruling, she said. "This is huge."
EPA scientists examined the evidence on global warming and reported the findings after a long period of work, said Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has oversight over the agency.
In the document, Stephen Johnson concluded there is "compelling and robust evidence" that observed warming of the Earth's average temperature is due to manmade greenhouse gases, Boxer said. The document tells what impacts global warming will have on regions of the United States "and what we need to do about it," she said.
Fred Fielding, the White House counsel, said in a letter to Boxer that the documents she wanted, including the "draft greenhouse gas endangerment analysis," were materials that were part of White House internal discussions before a decision was made.
Fielding also said that the White House had no objection to public discussion of the contents.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said an investigation by Boxer's committee uncovered what appeared to be an effort by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to cover up the truth about global warming by interfering with scientific conclusions by the EPA.
"They act as if they're above the law," Leahy said.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the decision of whether to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act was up to Johnson.
"At the time (Johnson) was trying to make a determination whether he'd go in one direction or another," Fratto said. "The direction he chose was to hold off on making a decision and to see what Congress was going to do with the energy bill, which was relevant to the very issue because the energy bill was dealing with motor vehicle emissions."
The energy bill, which became law in December, increased motor vehicle efficiency requirements.
Fratto said the administration was complying with the Supreme Court ruling by issuing a notice of rulemaking and calling for more comment.
"It's our view that global climate change is affected by global greenhouse gas emissions and the only way you're going to have an impact is coordination at the global level with a national plan," the White House spokesman said.
What's more, the Clean Air Act wasn't meant to cover greenhouse gases and would create problems for regulation and "an impact on the economy," he added.
Leahy on Wednesday canceled a joint hearing of the Environment and Judiciary committees next week after Johnson declined to testify.
The 38-page paper Boxer saw Wednesday on the dangers of global warming has a history. The EPA sent it to the White House Office of Management and Budget in an e-mail in early December, but the OMB declined to open it. It was unclear exactly how the White House had it nonetheless.
Boxer and two other senators spent about an hour reading it Thursday morning while two White House lawyers looked on. The lawyers then took the document back. Senate staffers read the document under similar conditions Wednesday night.
Boxer and Leahy also seek other EPA documents related to global warming, including some concerning EPA's decision to deny California's request to apply tougher air-quality standards than federal law requires. In all, 19 states want the tougher standards, she said.
Other excerpts from the document Boxer read:
"The fact that greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere for decades to centuries means that future concentrations are dependent not only on tomorrow's emissions but on today's emissions."
It also said that global warming will cause sea levels to continue to rise, making storm surge flooding and erosion worse; heat waves will be more intense and frequent and longer; wildfires will worsen; dry regions will be even drier; and there will be greater damage to places where wild plants and animals are already under stress from development, Boxer said.
Boxer said there was more in the document than she could convey through notes.