Backroom Bipartisanship

Yesterday's news is that the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the approval of the White House, fought behind the scenes to stop California from ...
by | September 25, 2007
 

Smokyroom Yesterday's news is that the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the approval of the White House, fought behind the scenes to stop California from regulating of greenhouse gas emissions produced by automobiles. Excuse me while I yawn.

California is seeking a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to become the first state to regulate tailpipe emissions. The White House secretly trying to influence the regulatory decisions of the EPA? We've heard that story before.

What is interesting, though, is how DOT pushed back against the California rules: by seeking the help of Democratic governors.

This week, Congressman Henry Waxman's House Oversight Committee produced 36 pages of e-mails from May and June in which DOT officials discuss their strategy. Much of the talk centers on persuading governors to submit comments to the EPA in opposition to the waiver.

Here's an e-mail from DOT Under Secretary of Policy Jeff Shane, in which he identifies Transportation Secretary Mary Peters as "S1" -- her super-cool codename:

S1 asked that we develop some ideas asap about facilitating a pushback from governors (esp. D's) and others opposed to piecemeal regulation of emissions, as per CA's waiver petition. She has heard that such objections could have an important effect on the way Congress looks at the issue.

In an era that pundits describe as hopelessly partisan, this is a clear sign that backroom scheming is still a bipartisan business. It's also gratifying to see that federal officials recognize the importance of governors in shaping national policy debates.

Did the strategy work? Based on an earlier e-mail dump from the oversight committee, the DOT targeted the governors of Michigan, Delaware, Tennessee, Indiana, South Carolina, Texas, Missouri and Kentucky, eight states with an auto industry presence. The DOT also reached out to congressmen in Ohio, but Governor Ted Strickland appears to be absent from the list.

So far as I can tell, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, is the only one of these governors who has spoken publicly about California's waiver request since then. She has criticized the California proposal, but didn't end up submitting a formal comment to EPA.

However, four governors did submit comments to the EPA: two Democrats, Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, and two Republicans, Charlie Crist of Florida and Jim Douglas of Vermont. All four argued in favor of California being granted the waiver.

Chalk up another victory for bipartisanship, although it's not the one the Bush administration wanted.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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