Senator demands tax records from critics of Bush plan

Committee chairman says he wants to know whom they represent

February 19, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The chairman of a Senate committee that oversees environmental issues has directed two national organizations that oppose President Bush's major clean-air initiative to turn over their financial and tax records to the Senate.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who heads the Environment and Public Works Committee, asked for the documents 10 days after a representative of the two groups criticized the Clear Skies proposal before a Senate subcommittee. Inhofe is the leading sponsor of the administration bill, which is deadlocked in his panel.

The executive director of the two organizations, which represent state and local air-pollution control officials, charged that the request was an attempt to intimidate critics.

Democratic senators on Inhofe's committee were also dismayed but declined to say so publicly because they are in the midst of sensitive negotiations with the chairman on the legislation, staff members said.

The committee's majority staff director, Andrew Wheeler, said the request for the groups' documents did not stem from their criticism of the legislation.

He said the panel wanted to determine whether the groups represented only regulators' views or also were subsidized by outside interests, including environmentalists or foundations.

William Becker, the executive director of both pollution control organizations, said the groups receive no money from environmental activists or other private interests.

The administration has proposed the Clear Skies initiative as part of its effort to overhaul the way the Clean Air Act forces power plants to cut emissions.

Inhofe delayed a vote on the bill this week after finding that he did not have the numbers to send it to the full Senate. The panel's 18 members are split, largely along party lines.

On Jan. 26, John Paul, an environmental regulator from Ohio, testified on behalf of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators, which represents 48 state air-pollution control agencies, and the Association of Local Air Pollution Control Officials, which represents more than 165 local agencies.

He told the Senate subcommittee that Clear Skies "fails on every one of our associations' core principles," was "far too lenient" on polluters and would undermine "states' abilities to protect air quality."

After the testimony, several senators sent a letter to Paul with follow-up questions; Inhofe included a request for financial statements, membership lists and tax returns for the past six years for both groups.

Paul is the vice president and incoming president of the local air-pollution group.

The Senate committee asked for the information because it has long-standing concerns about the decision-making process of the state air pollution group and was pursuing those questions as part of its oversight responsibility, Wheeler said.

The two groups represent the views of the state and local regulators before the EPA and Congress, conduct training, publish newsletters and do surveys.

"We have a limited constituency - the 50 states and local agencies," Becker said.

He said Inhofe's request appeared to be "some sort of retaliation against some very legitimate criticism of [Bush's] Clear Skies proposal."

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